Thanks to cellphone cameras and the Internet, photography is everywhere. People use it for everything from creating fine art to recording mundane aspects of daily life.
Digital technology at the turn of our century has expanded photography’s possibilities, just as cheap “Brownie” cameras and commercial film-processing services did at the turn of the last century.
The new “History of Photography” exhibit at the Headley-Whitney Museum of Art tells this story with more than 90 pictures, including examples of early photography processes and rare original prints of images by history’s iconic photographers.
The public also can participate in a companion exhibit, “#Digital Darkroom,” in which pictures of Central Kentucky will be pulled from the social media platform Instagram for display in the museum’s small gallery. To have your work considered, post it with the hashtags #digitaldarkroom and #hwma.
“We wanted to showcase Lexington through the eyes of people who live or travel through here,” said Skylar Davis, a museum staff member who helped organize the exhibits. “We also wanted to make a statement about how by posting your photos on social media, you’re opening yourself up to critique like any artist.”
The exhibits opened May 27 and continue through Sept. 3 at the Headley-Whitney, 4435 Old Frankfort Pike. More information: Headley-whitney.org.
The “History of Photography” is a well-curated exhibit, tracing the medium since its invention in the 1830s.
There are examples of how photographers used early technology — daguerreotypes, tintypes and stereoscope pictures — to reproduce images of people, places and things. This included both art and science, such as Eadweard Muybridge’s motion studies that showed for the first time how animals and people really moved.
The best part of these exhibits are the dozens of original prints of some of photography’s most recognizable images, all from Kentucky collections. Most pieces were lent by the Speed Art Museum in Louisville, the special collections of the University of Kentucky and the University of Louisville, the Kentucky Historical Society, and the impressive private collection of Paul Paletti, a Louisville lawyer, photographer and gallery owner.
The show includes artistic studies and landscapes by early masters, including Edward Steichen, Alfred Stieglitz, Ansel Adams and Edward Weston. There are historical works by Edward Curtis, who photographed Native American tribes out West as their way of life was disappearing.
There also is a good representation of photojournalism and documentary photography, including Henri Cartier-Bresson’s famous picture of a Paris cyclist; James Nachtwey’s Sept. 11, 2001, image of the World Trade Center’s South Tower collapsing near a church; and David Turnley’s iconic 1994 image of Nelson Mandela revisiting the prison cell where he spent 19 years before the end of apartheid.
Paletti was at the Headley-Whitney on June 3 to give an opening lecture about his collection. About 200 of his 1,400 original prints are showcased (and offered for sale) on a rotating basis at the Paul Paletti Gallery, which opened in 2001 in his law firm’s offices at 713 East Market Street in Louisville.
“My partners went along with lighting and laying out the office as an art gallery,” said Paletti, who practices business, corporate, tax and estate-planning law. “We have more of a reputation for the art work than our day jobs, which pay for it all.”
He started out wanting to be a photojournalist, then he switched to art photography. He earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in photography before going to law school.
“I never did make a living at it,” Paletti said of photography. “I didn’t have the courage to go out there and really try, so I bounced around with a bunch of different things before ending up in law practice.”
Photography remains a personal passion, and he has discovered that fine art prints can be a good investment.
As a student, he bought inexpensive prints by Ansel Adams, Paul Strand and Imogene Cunningham. Fifteen years later, he discovered that they were worth 10 times what he paid for them. Since then, he has been buying and selling fine art prints and amassing one of the region’s best collections.
Paletti said looking at a high-quality print of a great photograph is a different experience from seeing it reproduced online or in a book, because of the subtle tones and details.
“You have to see it in person,” he said, and that’s why the “History of Photography” exhibit is worth seeing while you can.
If you go
‘History of Photography’
When: Through Sept. 3
Gallery hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Weds.-Fri., noon-5 p.m. Sat. and Sun., closed Mon. and Tues.
Where: Headley-Whitney Museum of Art, 4435 Old Frankfort Pike
Admission: $10 adults, $8 students, free for ages 10 and younger