Beyond Beauty

August 1, 2009

History in focus: from top, "General Grant on Lookout Mountain,"by Matthew Brady, 1863; "Willie Cornett on hood of car passing a cigarette," by William Gedney, 1972; "McKinley Massey and neighbors carrying tobacco plants to the field, Big Pine, North Carolina," by Rob Amberg, 1982.

A new exhibit at the Nasher Museum of Art spans the lifetime of photography, highlights images from different eras, and examines how they have been collected.

"Beyond Beauty: Photographs from the Duke University Special Collections Library" features more than eighty photographs, films, personal artifacts, and rare published portfolios, many of which are on view for the first time.

The exhibition includes photographic material from the 1860s to the present, selected from Duke's Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library. Through the work of significant and
well-known nineteenth-century photographers, as well as the work of contemporary documentary photographers, "Beyond Beauty" traces the history of the photographic print, from albumen, platinum, gelatin-silver, photogravure, and color photographs to the most recent "born digital" examples.

Historical images such as Civil War photographer Mathew Brady's "General Grant on Lookout Mountain" (1863) and seven original albumen prints by Timothy O'Sullivan, made in 1871 and 1873 on his expeditions to the American West, are on view, as well as other iconic examples of stunning natural beauty by William Bell, John Hillers, and William Henry Jackson.

French photographer Félix Bonfils, credited with introducing European audiences to images of the Middle East, is represented by work from his 1881 Palestine Album.

"Beyond Beauty" also features works by thirty-six contemporary artists who specialize in documentary photography. The majority of them have agreed to place their entire body of work in Duke's Archive of Documentary Arts at the special-collections library. Photographs by William Gedney, such as "Willie Cornett on hood of car passing a cigarette," shot in Kentucky in 1972, will be shown, along with Gedney's journal documenting his experience in Kentucky.

Photographs from Paul Kwilecki's forty-year study of Decatur County, Georgia, will be included along with the work of Olive Pierce, Rob Amberg, Jesse Andrews, Cedric Chatterley, and Lynn Saville '71, among others.

Representative works from the libraries' growing collection of South African documentary photography will also be on view.

Photographs from other collections at Duke will be on display as well, among them an Henri Cartier-Bresson 1946 image of Carson McCullers, from the McCullers archive, and the photograph Edward Steichen made to advertise Pond's Cold Cream, one of the thousands of photographs in the J. Walter Thompson Company archives at the libraries' John W. Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising & Marketing History.

The exhibition was organized by the Special Collections Library and the Nasher and will be on view  through October 18.