The Victorians were pioneers in photography. After Louis Daguerre first revealed his eponymous process in 1839, the medium took hold of the popular imagination, with early adopters such as William Henry Fox Talbot (1800-1877) capturing reality in images that were used for a wide range of practical applications as well as illustration. The work of these 19th century visionaries is the starting point for a new exhibition by Foam, Amsterdam, in collaboration with C/O Berlin, which links the first days of photographs with their modern-day counterparts.
Back to the Future – the 19th Century in the 21st Century centres on the idea that the medium is currently experiencing high levels of ambiguity, echoing its original, experimental form. Anna Atkins (1799-1871), for example, was a botanist whose book Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions (1843) was one of the earliest publications to include photographic images – and was certainly the first of its kind by a woman. The suggestion in this exhibition is that 21st century practitioners are equally innovative. This, taken alone, could be seen as something of an overstatement, but the pairings are effective, and the role of modern digital technology provides a compelling argument in its favour.
Sylvia Ballhause (b.1977) considers the distinction between perception and reality through the vivid exploration of photographic processes, while Spiros Hadjidjanos (b.1978) produces biologically inspired images that trace a direct line from Atkins and Talbot to the present day. A conversation is established, with precedent firmly acknowledged and used as a tool for further developing the discipline. As the organisers acknowledge, the parallels drawn here are not “hard science” but “relevant associations.” Whilst core principles remain in place – namely, experimentation with light, material and process – connections should be seen in an open, fluid manner, allowing the audience to play a role in forming meanings through their own responses to the pieces on show.
Back to the Future – the 19th Century in the 20th Century is at Foam, Amsterdam, The Netherlands from 19 January-28 March, and at C/O Berlin, Germany, from 29 September-2 December. Find out more: foam.org
1. Stepping Stone Falls, 2016. Triptych C Matthew Brandt. Courtesy Yossi Milo Gallery New York.