Paper + People is a blog about the Smith College Museum of Art’s collection of over 16,000 prints, drawings, and photographs. Here you will find a diverse array of posts written by museum staff, students, scholars, and other works on paper enthusiasts about anything pertaining to the collection: exhibitions, class visits, monthly Student Picks exhibitions, as well as research on and personal encounters with individual artworks. Any works you see featured here are available to view by appointment in the Cunningham Center for the Study of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs.
Wednesday, January 4, 2012
A recent and favorite discovery of mine in the Cunningham Center’s collection is this complete collection of American travel stereographs of Egypt made during the early twentieth century.
A stereographis a pair of photographs—two of the same image—mounted side by side on a rectangular card, like this:
Stereograph. American, 1904. Bequest of Henry L. Seaver. Photograph by Amanda Shubert.
You view them through a stereoscope, an elaborate pair of glasses with magnifying lenses. There is a slot behind the lenses where the stereograph fits.
Stereoscope viewer. French, 1855. Purchased. SC 1950:85. Photograph by Amanda Shubert.
You look through the viewfinder, and the lenses trick your eye into combining the two photographs into one three-dimensional image of astonishing depth. The images merge, and then they kind of “pop”—suddenly you are seeing in 3D. It’s almost like looking through the small end of a telescope, at a tiny but perfectly clear scene way in the distance.
Stereoscopic photographs, or stereographs, were invented in 1849 by Sir David Brewster and unveiled in 1851 at London’s Great Exhibition, the first ever World’s Fair. Series of collectable travel stereographs like this one were undertaken by publishers who employed photographers to make them on site. The photographers worked both with the publisher and with the author of the accompanying text, an expert in the field, who gave the photographers a list of locations with detailed maps, plans and instructions. The author then wrote commentary for each image printed on the reverse side of the stereograph.
You might see this series of travel stereographs as the Victorian equivalent of a television travel documentary: providing a panoramic view of the major Egyptian tourist sites, and the typological version of a voice-over commentary. The production of stereoscopes fed off of the Victorian appetite for travel, democratizing travel for the growing middle class prevented from elaborate vacations by domestic or professional responsibilities or financial restraints.
Nice piece, but in actual fact stereopsis was first described by Charles Wheatstone in 1838. In 1840 he was awarded the Royal Medal of the Royal Society for his explanation of binocular vision, a research which led him to make stereoscopic drawings and construct the stereoscope. He showed that our impression of solidity is gained by the combination in the mind of two separate pictures of an object taken by both of our eyes from different points of view. Thus, in the stereoscope, an arrangement of lenses or mirrors, two photographs of the same object taken from different points are so combined as to make the object stand out with a solid aspect. Sir David Brewster improved the stereoscope by dispensing with the mirrors, and bringing it into its existing form with lenses.
Monday, December 19, 2011
Dread Scott. American, b. 1965. Boom BOOM!,2001. Screenprint in printed in color on Stonehenge white paper. Purchased through the efforts of students in the class “Collecting 101,” January 2011. Photograph by Petegorsky/Gipe.
This post is written by Julie Bomba ’11. Julie assisted in the acquisition of “Boom BOOM!” for the SCMA collection as part of the January Term class Collecting 101. To read more on Collecting 101, click here.
Art isn’t always going to make you feel comfortable; in fact, most of the greatest masterpieces have been the cause of upheaval and revolution. Some have posed questions about the very foundation of institutions, crumbing their credibility and authority. Other artworks, with stubborn one-sided opinions and relentless messages, have created a different kind of discomfort. Dread Scott’s Boom BOOM!demonstrates both kinds of discomfort.
The print is propaganda in its true definition, “the spreading of ideas, information, or rumor for the purpose of helping or injuring an institution, a cause, or a person.”* This is a word that has extremely negative connotations, bringing fascism and other horrific regimes to mind, but in reality we are surrounded by it daily, whether it be a governmental campaign, religious billboard, or even a commercial for diet pills. Furthermore, the most compelling contemporary art has critiqued museums, modernism, society, homophobia, and the gender binary.
Scott’s artwork is in-your-face with its anger and unmistakably leftist views: he juxtaposes images of a booming stock market with its indirect consequence, violent revolution in Nepal. What are these women fighting for? And what does capitalism have to do with it? The answer divides many, for challenging the capitalist institution is seen as clichéd and unpatriotic among most while essential for progress among others. Although Scott is asserting his opinion with this print, you don’t have to agree with him to appreciate it.
Whether or not the message resonates with you is irrelevant—its merit is in the fact that you cannot help but talk about it. Picking this print to propose for the J-term class Collecting 101 was a risk; my group knew the work’s political leanings were unpopular and unforgiving. Yet, we saw in it great potential for dialogue as well as a historical presence, which has become even more relevant considering what is happening in Egypt, Tunisia, and in the Middle East. Scott’s print is more than just propaganda —it is a historic document recording the current political climate, which now can be remembered and studied by fellow and future Smithies.
* Merriam-Webster Dictionary, 2010.
Thursday, December 15, 2011
SCMA launched a new course in January 2011 called “Collecting 101.” Designed to be an introduction to the issues and practical matters of collecting for an institution, “Collecting 101” allowed students to directly participate in researching and purchasing a work on paper for the SCMA collection.
During the inaugural teaching of the course, twelve students (representing all classes) learned about the SCMA’s policies and aspects of collecting in general. They also learned about printmaking, as the works to be considered for purchase were contemporary prints. As a group the class assembled a list of important criteria to consider while deciding on their purchase, which included the work’s educational value from an interdisciplinary perspective, that the work be intellectually stimulating and visual appeal, and that it fit well into the current collection.
On January 13, the class hosted Jamie Miller, Master Printer and Program Director at the Lower East Side Printshop, who introduced eleven possible choices of contemporary prints for purchase. After narrowing the field to four items, students researched and presented purchase proposals, arguing the merits of each print.
Competition was fierce, and all of the proposals were well argued and presented. The final work selected, Dread Scott’s Boom BOOM!is the first work by the artist to enter the SCMA collection. “Collecting 101” will be offered again in January 2012.
Jamie Miller and students in “Collecting 101” consider selected works from the Lower East Side Printshop, January 2011.