Early Photographic Studio Photography and the Influence of Photography on Impressionist Painting
The Barber Institute of Fine Arts, the University of Birmingham July 2017, Insight Programme
More than three years ago I wrote about the Insight programme run by the staff and volunteers at the Barber Institute of Fine Arts at the University of Birmingham in the U.K. The programme runs on a quarterly basis and has gathered a steady group of visually impaired followers. For various reasons I have been a rather sporadic attendee but last week I was lucky enough to be included in the group.
The volunteer guides are all enthusiastic, erudite and very knowledgeable art lovers. Sometimes the demands of the gallery and the VI group call for levels of imagination and ingenuity above and beyond their remit. I suspect and hope they like a challenge and this time they met it with great success by linking the unlikely subject of 19th century cartes de visite exhibition with the influence of photography on the French Impressionists.
For readers who, like me, had never heard of cartes de visite, these were small visiting cards bearing a photograph of the visitor and were patented by Disdéri in Paris in 1854. Initially they were straightforward studio based photographs but later became more widely interesting and collectible. For more information on cartes de visite go to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carte_de_visite. For those of us living in this digital age it is easy to understand the appeal of the accessibility of photography in the 19th century and its appeal to painters looking for fresh ideas.
On this occasion four of the volunteer guides at the Institute gave us a detailed and interesting account of the connection between photography and the innovative approach of the Impressionists to their subjects, both portraits and landscape. I was particularly interested in the ideas of using paint to capture the effects of how we see things with our peripheral vision. For those of us who have macular degeneration and are only left with peripheral vision it seems particularly ironic that we are unable to focus on the technique. Thank goodness for the imagination and sensitivity of the guides in describing what we cannot see. The provision of excellent reproductions of some of the work under discussion is a great help. We can then examine them closely before seeing the real thing.
After looking at the reproduction images we were taken to the main gallery where the guides talked about the Monet Water Lily Pond 1900, the Degas Jockeys Before the Race 1879 and the Manet portrait of his friend Carolus Duran 1876.
We then visited the small exhibition of cartes de visite. Unfortunately, for my particular vision, the lighting was too dim and the photographs too small for me to see them.
Following the visit to the gallery, we returned to the seminar room to discuss what we had seen. The consensus was that the morning had been an introduction to some new ideas and was very accessible at different levels to all of us. Great success!
This blog is intended to be about technology and accessibility for people with VI and so I have not gone into detail about the exhibition but I can thoroughly recommend a visit to the Barber Institute of Fine Arts. It has something for everyone!
PS thank you Daisy for editing and posting this.