EASTON — Think of how many photographs you see in a day — in an hour.
Advertising, news imagery, art imagery and personal iPhone images and of course all the millions of images posted on social media. People’s pets, their cars, their selfies — they are everywhere.
If we think back to the late 1800s when the photographic image was born, you needed a lot of gear and time just to make one image. They literally carried carts full of chemicals to fix the image. Exposures could take hours to record the image. Photography was considered more of a scientific oddity than an art.
Starting Jan. 19, the Academy Art Museum’s curator Mehvis Lelic is giving a four-part, virtual class about the history of photography. She will start at the beginning of photography in France and go all the way to photojournalism that happened during the riots on the Capitol.
“It is a lecture series on the history of photography. It is in four parts and chronologically traces how photography became what it is today,” said Mehves Lelic, Curator of The Academy Art Museum.
“This entire history of photography as a creative medium is often overlooked. I want to show how the media was used creatively,” she said.
Brown bag lectures have morphed because of COVID. The classes are Jan. 19, Feb. 16, March 2 and March 16 at noon. All of these can be accessed through Zoom and they will be recorded to watch later on Vimeo. You can get more information on the classes through the Academy Art Museum website. www.academyartmuseum.org.
The classes are free but require pre-registration.
Hippolyte Bayard made the first staged photograph in world in 1839. He protested the preference that French society gave to Louis Daguerre who became known as the father of photography.
“He actually came up with his own light sensitive process around the same time as Daguerre. But the French Academy did not recognize this process because it was similar in many ways to the Daguerreotype process. So they did not give him an honorarium. He was very upset and he went home and he staged a photograph of himself in a deadly repose and he titled it ‘Self Portrait of a Drowned Man’. ‘Look at me. Look at what the Academy did to me by ignoring my accomplishments’,” said Lelic.
Lelic is excited about the comprehensive nature of the new class
“The first part of the class is really devoted to the beginning. Not just the medium but the obsession they had with fixing the image. The second part is the latent image. Basically the invention of the negative and advancing technology has made photography a more instant medium. They no longer had to carry around a cart (to develop the image),” she said.
“The third part is really modern and contemporary photography. The final part is really about how photography has changed the way we interact with reality and how we believe photographs to be true. When they are not necessarily always true and how the ability to manipulate truth in photographs came about,” she said.
The class also bring perspective on our modern times.
“Because of capitalism and neoliberalism, we live in a completely different sort of reality now than the people did in the 1900s. And therefore the role of photography has changed. It is much more of a tool to suspend disbelief. How are we supposed to read a photograph? What degree of cynicism and belief can we have in an image?,” Lelic said.
She thinks this class is for everyone. And she promises it will be fun.
“Even if you take photographs on your iPhone. Everyone who looks at photographs through the news media or in a museum or gallery setting — we are going to cast a really wide net and it is not going to be overly technical. I think it is about photography appreciation and also looking at the work of the influential and creative artists of the past two centuries,” she said. “We are also going to talk about a cast of characters. Like Henri Cartier Bresson, Julia Margaret Cameron to Candida Hofer who is a contemporary living photographer. And Lynsey Addario who’s a journalist.”
There will also be discussions about the role of photography in current events such as the storming of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.
“The images from the storming of the Capitol — they lie at an intersection of trusting the news, looking for visual evidence and then thinking about how that visual evidence comes about. If they would like to consider the role of photography in the modern world, then they should absolutely join the class,” she said.