British photographic history

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The First 50 Years of American Photography

A new exhibition, which opened recently, displays some of the rarest, earliest and most important photographs in America. The materials are highlights from a magnificent set of more than 16,000 19th-century American photographs from the Beth and Stephan Loewentheil Family Photographic Collection.

Through photographs, ephemera, and original publications, Cornell University Library’s Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections explores photography during its first fifty years in America, featuring examples of the earliest photographic processes and multiple stages of its technological evolution. From this look at photography’s early technical development, another story emerges: that of the dynamic and complex relationship between the new photographic medium and the turbulent historic currents that shaped the American nation.

Highlights of the exhibition include multiple photographs by Civil War photographer Mathew Brady, including a large 1861 portrait of Abraham Lincoln, warmly inscribed to the wife of Lincoln's oldest and closest friend; images documenting the Civil War, including a photograph of American Red Cross founder Clara Barton sitting with soldiers; a personal photograph album compiled by Mark Twain; and photographs documenting African American life, westward expansion and the rise of celebrity culture.

Details of the exhibition can be found here. But don't worry if you can't get to Stateside, as they have a great online version which you can view here.

Photo: Alfred Brisbois. William F. Cody "Buffalo Bill,” late 1880s, albumen print, 6½ by 4½ inches.

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Comment by Michael Wong on January 9, 2012 at 22:37

The video below is of Deborah Willis, chair of the Department of Photography & Imaging at the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University, delivering the opening lecture for this exhibition, Dawn's Early Light:

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