Press Release

'Borrowed Light: Selections from the Jack Shear Collection' Premieres February 6

Event Date: 
6 February 2016
Saratoga Springs, NY

Exhibition Features More than 150 Photographs Spanning History of Medium

The Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery at Skidmore College will present Borrowed Light: Selections from the Jack Shear Collection February 6 through August 14, 2016. The exhibition will celebrate the major gift of over 500 photographs donated to the Tang by photographer, curator, and collector Jack Shear, and will feature a selection of works chosen by Dayton Director Ian Berry in collaboration with Shear.

Borrowed Light will present a visual history of photography from its inception in the 1840s to the present day, chronicling various photographic processes, techniques, and artistic approaches—from an early half-plate ambrotype of Niagara Falls, to a Polaroid self-portrait by a young Robert Mapplethorpe. Tracing the evolution of the medium, the exhibition will feature historic works by photographic pioneers such as Berenice Abbott, Diane Arbus, Eugène Atget, Manuel Álvarez Bravo, Ralph Eugene Meatyard, Alfred Stieglitz, and Edward Weston, as well as works by notable contemporary photographers such as Tina Barney, Katy Grannan, Malerie Marder, and Sheila Metzner.

The exhibition is a presentation of works that hold significant personal meaning for Shear, and are a reflection of his collecting philosophy and aesthetic as a photographer. In addition to a traditional, chronological display, there will be a densely hung gallery of works spanning all genres and subjects. This salon-style presentation will also include one wall that will change over the course of the exhibition. Skidmore art history students will be invited to re-hang this wall after researching and studying the collection.

“It is exciting for us to share this outstanding and eccentric collection of photography, which compellingly illustrates the evolution of a medium that touches upon many aspects of our culture," said Ian Berry, Dayton Director of the Tang Teaching Museum and exhibition co-curator. "Through Jack’s generosity, we have not only the opportunity to explore the full sweep of the history of photography with our visitors, but the ability to use the collection in the interdisciplinary learning and teaching that is the hallmark of the Tang."

"I love the combination of anonymous vernacular photographs and important historical works," said Jack Shear, photographer, collector and exhibition co-curator. "Seeing the collection together brings out so many personal moments of discovery across a lifetime of looking at images. I began collecting daguerreotypes and other early photographs when I was 16. And as a young photographer in Los Angeles, I remember seeing works by Sander, Avedon, and Michals that made a lasting impression. It's those kinds of moments that I hope my collection will make possible for new generations of photographers."

Human sexuality, one of the themes examined in Borrowed Light, has long been a subject of interest for Shear. The exhibition will feature a range of photographs dealing with social constructions of masculinity, the male body, and gender expression. Many of the photographs explore the body as a physical landscape, and reveal sexual expression in public and private spheres. Key photographers include Nan Goldin, Peter Hujar, George Platt Lynes, Catherine Opie, Edmund Teske, Bruce Weber, and Joel-Peter Witkin.

Other themes in the exhibition include war photography, exemplified by iconic images such as Valley of the Shadow of Death (1855), Roger Fenton’s haunting and vacant landscape of cannonballs in the Crimean War; Timothy O’Sullivan’s early depictions of war dead in A Harvest of Death (1863); and works by the embedded Vietnam War photographer Art Greenspon. The exhibition will also look at the progression of portraiture, illustrating the medium’s nearly immediate democratization through the use of daguerreotypes, albumen prints, and other early photo processes. Examples include Julia Margaret Cameron’s soft-focused and reverential Herbert Wilson (1868), which helped to move photographic portraiture from pure documentation to artistic intention; and Edward Curtis’s field-printed cyanotype of an American Indian (c.1900-1930), which also shows how early photographers checked the quality of their images before digital photography.

Borrowed Light will be accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue. A series of public programs with several of the photographers whose work is on view in the exhibition will be announced in the coming months. The exhibition and entire collection will support teaching, learning, and research by students and faculty working in a range of disciplines, from Art History and Studio Art, to History and Gender Studies, and Environmental Studies and Biology.

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Robert Mapplethorpe, Autoportrait 1, c. 1974. Photographed by Arthur Evans, courtesy Tang Museum.

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