Saturday, February 5

Riches of the City: Adolphe Braun

Untitled c. 1853-55 Adolphe Braun (via Tout Cici Est Magnifique)
Riches of the City: Portland Collects is up now at the Portland Art Museum through May 22nd. The exhibit, taking it's title from the museum's founder and long time patron, C.E.S. Wood, is a terrific celebration of collecting in Portland. The show includes valuable works from Asian Art to Contemporary and demonstrates that there is a lot of great art tucked away in Portland.

Untitled c.1853-55 Adolphe Braun (via Tout Cici Est Magnifique)
While there are great examples of why exhibits of this scope can be lousy, this exhibit is not one of them (Things I love: The Many Collections of William I. Koch at the MFA, Boston in 2005 was a good example of a collector's show turned "museum-owed-me-one" spectacle. It featured among a smattering of art: trophies, a large collection of Magnums and even larger wine vessels (already opened) and even two sailboats installed into the front lawn).

It is the stronger, lesser seen work hanging in Riches that made it enjoyable.Among those pieces was a great Adolphe Braun photograph lent by Stu Levy.

The untitled photograph(not featured here, but very similar)has an aged sepia glow that, along with it's mundane subject matter of a tabletop bouquet and date of around 1855, would be easily dismissed simply as an early photographic study.

Looking closer and minding the eerie, narrow focus and clumsiness of the image (never mind the unusual, truncated composition) it's apparent that the flowers are wilted, dying.

I learned later that Adolphe Braun was trained as a textile designer, taking up photography around 1853. The photograph lent by Levy, along with around 300 others done by Braun, was intended to be used for other students as examples or directly as templates for wallpaper.

Most early photographs reveal a different standard of craft from today, perhaps mostly because of technology and changing cultural influences or standards. But Braun's photograph was striking because his was meant as a stencil or record. Why are the flowers then less than perfect? Still lives are, well, still. So, why is there indication of movement?

Perhaps Braun was thinking beyond wallpaper stencils and was trying to imply time, some sort of experience or bring to mind ideas about life. Maybe Braun was trying to make a stale representation feel real, mortal. Keeping this in mind and early photography's use as a record keeping tool what does it mean to document something and how does it's value change as a result?

By virtue of making an image or articulating something about an experience or object, it becomes important. Braun purposefully chose to photograph flowers a few days or week old. Once noticed, those wilted petals take on a certain significance that also seem to bring honest authority to whatever mark, technical error or blur that exists in the photograph. It is that truth in good images that speaks louder than the subject matter itself.

No comments:

Post a Comment