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Current News             Issue Archive             Article Archive E-Photo Newsletter   Issue 157   2/12/2009

U.S. Congress Votes Against The Arts, Calling Them Unimportant to The Economy

By Alex Novak

Something not-so-funny happened on the way to a stimulus bill: the U.S. Congress voted specifically to kill all such funds for the NEA, the arts and our museums. It was called the Coburn amendment, and you will be shocked at the so-called liberal legislators who also voted for this travesty. By the way, the pitiful amount cut? $50 million, or .00006% of the total currently being spent on this bill. Yes, those are the right amount of zeros after that decimal point. The fight should have been over the pathetic funding instead of the need and the impact.

Frankly, $50 million is a tiny amount: it is 1/600 of the $30 billion allotted just for roads and bridges. Is not art as important as out-of-date modes of transportation that only contribute to further energy and environmental problems? And these are truly pork projects that have often been associated with payoffs, kick-backs, graft and bid rigging, unlike the arts. Perhaps that's the reason this Congress chose to put the money where THEY may get more out of it themselves. Just look at the mess up in Alaska for some good examples (but I also remember some recent past beauties in New Jersey and Illinois).

Only the U.S. spends so little on the arts compared to any other developed country. The German government just allocated the equivalent of nearly $2 billion dollars. The French government, $4 billion. The Italian government spends more on opera houses than our government spends on ALL the arts--and that minuscule bit was just cut out completely! The amount the U.S. spends per capita on the arts is a joke, and yet such spending provides some of the most bang for the buck.

According to Americans for the Arts, art is a great economic investment. The organization notes that each year nonprofit arts organizations generate $166.2 billion in economic activity, support 5.7 million jobs, and send almost $30 billion back to government in taxes generated through the process. The brain-dead congressmen (and it was men, by the way) who took easy pot shots at the arts never considered this fatal error in their thinking. And an investment in the arts has a quicker, more direct effect on the economy and is more job-generating than nearly any other alternative.

The fact that funds for museums, artists and the arts were specifically banned from the so-called stimulus package is a disaster. In the current economic environment, this is a matter of absolute survival. Just look at Brandeis, which was going to close its art museum, fire the staff and sell off the art (only now are they backing away gingerly, while still trying to do those very things).

Museums and other art institutions are facing the most serious crisis that they have ever faced. Their endowments have been slashed by 25-75%, and most of their operating budgets are legally tied to a set percentage of these endowments. Foundation and donor money has also suffered the same cuts or even worse, which further exacerbates the situation. Museums have and will start to lay off staff, sell off art (despite the museum association's rules, which will be changed--mark my words on that; and legal limitations from donor restrictions), and cancel all funds for purchases.

This decision will ultimately cost hundreds of thousands of jobs and is the worst hit on art and culture ever for this country.

And if you think the Congress will get funding for the arts passed later on in this environment, you are dreaming. It may never happen because Republicans and Conservative Democrats will probably kill it, and the so-called Liberals are frightened of their own shadows--even President Obama, who did nothing in the conference to support the arts. Both my senators here in Pennsylvania voted to ban this money--and they are considered Liberal/Moderates.

Every one of us in the art community must email and fax the President and our individual representatives immediately to get this money back into the stimulus bill right now. Let them know that you will not contribute funds to or vote for any one who voted for the Coburn Amendment unless they publicly support the arts and vote on reversing the cuts in funding measures for the arts immediately.

Neither side seems to have grasped the real message of the last election: this is not a time for the same old approaches. It must be a time of transformation if we are to survive.

For more information on this serious matter, see the following links:

http://www.speakupformuseums.org .

http://business.theatlantic.com/2009/02/why_stimulus_spending_should_go_to_public_art.php .

For a list of how your representatives voted on this matter (a Yes vote is a BAD thing), go to:

http://www.senate.gov/legislative/LIS/roll_call_lists/roll_call_vote_cfm.cfm?congress=111&session=1&vote=00051 .

And don't be put off by the ridiculous propaganda-like wording on the so-called "purpose" of this bill: "to ensure that taxpayer money is not lost on wasteful and non-stimulative projects!" As if the arts were wasteful and monies spent or not spent on them had no impact on our economy.

Tell your representative that they made a mistake and that they need to correct it now! Email them, call their offices, send them faxes now. Time is of the essence. Please let your friends know and link to this site. If you are involved in any arts or photography organization, get your membership involved in this now. Contact your magazines, newspapers, and TV and radio stations. This will impact all of us as citizens and as supporters of the arts.

Let's not lose this battle because Art and Culture can't hire high-paid lobbyists to get our representatives and President's attention. Let's make them understand for once that there are consequences to their actions or even inaction.

By the way, I have also set up a Facebook group entitled, "Save the Arts from the Stupidity of the U.S. Congress", which you can find here: http://www.facebook.com/groups.php?ref=sb#/group.php?gid=62275347852 , but you will have to join Facebook to see the group and join it. There are some very active discussions about this situation posted there, and you can add your own thoughts on the subject.

Getty Conservation Institute Develops New Methods For Identifying and Authenticating Photographs

By Alex Novak

Conservationists at the Getty Conservation Institute have developed a combination of techniques that could revolutionize the authentication and identification of historic photographs and their type of process.

In the past, photographs have usually been identified through visual or microscopic inspection, a method that relies on connoisseurship and is not error-proof. Now, the Getty researchers have revealed that most 20th-century printing processes leave behind distinct chemical traces that are nearly as unique as fingerprints.

The Getty's Dusan Stulik and Art Kaplan, along with photo conservator Tram Vo, used nondestructive X-ray fluorescence spectrometry and Fourier-transform infrared spectrometry analysis to analyze the chemical signatures of numerous historic photographic processes, of which there have been more than 150 since the beginning of photography. The trio found that by precisely measuring amounts of barium and strontium in a given print--both elements are both found in a mineral coating that became part of black-and-white photographic paper by the end of the 19th century and would remain part of nearly all paper manufactured until the 1970s--they could determine its origin.

"We've found that photographic papers produced by different manufacturers at different times contain distinct concentrations of barium and strontium. These distinctions in the composition of photographic papers and photographs can be used to determine who made the paper, and when," explained Stulik.

"This finding is significant for museum curators, collectors, and conservators of photographs because a precise [analysis] could demonstrate that a photograph in question has been mistakenly identified as being much older than it actually is, or that a certain photographic paper was not actually available during the life of a particular photographer."

Some of the resulting data have also been incorporated in a new database of chemical profiles allowing for instant identification of hundreds of different processes and even toning techniques using the two types of analysis. On a recent visit to the Getty, I watched as several photographs were placed under the infrared analysis machine and the specific print process was instantly identified by the software.

Stulik explained to me how the group was building up specific information databases on the prints of several major photographers, which may lead to authentication methods for those photographers.

Last year Stulik and Kaplan were invited to Paris to work with the Henri Cartier-Bresson Foundation and the Atelier de Restauration et de Conservation des Photographies de Ville de Paris in analyzing Henri Cartier-Bresson’s original photographs. This initial work would aid in building a database of information on the photographer’s existing prints, against which other prints attributed to him could be compared in the future.

“Importantly, this new approach is not just a theoretical approach, it’s also practical. It expands our knowledge of Henri Cartier-Bresson’s prints tremendously--his processes, the photographic paper he used, and where and when he printed photographs. We will be much more able to characterize his prints in future," said Dr. Anne Cartier-Bresson, director of the Atelier de Restauration et de Conservation des Photographies de Ville de Paris, and Henri Cartier-Bresson’s niece. “To my knowledge, this is the first time this type of methodology has ever been applied to this kind of problem. To study one photographer in all of these aspects is unprecedented.”

It is hoped that the process would be able to distinguish genuine from counterfeit prints in a scientific fashion.

The Getty is planning to make some of their findings available to other public institutions.

To download a pdf file of the original published paper on the methodology just click here: http://www.ndt.net/article/art2008/papers/050Stulik.pdf .

Photography in Virginia; British Calotypes and Many Other Photo Books and Catalogues

By Matt Damsker

PHOTOGRAPHY IN VIRGINIA.

By Jeffrey Ruggles. 2008, Virginia Historical Society. 240 pages; hardbound; ISBN No. 978-0-945015-30-7. Information: Virginia Historical Society, 428 North Boulevard, P.O. Box 7311, Richmond, VA 23221-0311; Phone: +803 358-4901; online: http://www.vahistorical.org .

This scholarly compendium is a handsomely bound, designed and superbly printed (on glossy stock) exploration of the important early American photography produced in the state of Virginia from the 1840s to the 1960s. Author Jeffrey Ruggles, who is the curator of prints and photography for the Virginia Historical Society, notes that most of these images have not been published before, and he has assembled from Virginia's archives a mix of professional and amateur work shot within the state's borders, paying special attention to African-Americans, women, and to the Confederate soldiers of the Civil War.

The result is proof positive (and negative) that photography flourished in Virginia, beginning soon after Daguerre's process was announced in Paris, when a daguerreotypist in Richmond, VA, began advertising his services. Daguerreotype portraits of Virginians as well as Virginian landmarks (White Sulphur Springs, for example, which is now a West Virginia locale, home of the Greenbrier resort, though West Virginia hadn't been pried from Virginia's territory when this image was taken in the 1840s) soon abounded, and Ruggles arrays many of the best here.

He also chronicles the commercial success of Jesse Harrison Whitehurst, the leading Virginian daguerrean, who eventually opened four galleries in the state (and four outside of it), though he "is remembered more as an entrepreneur than as a photographer." One of the key historical photos of this volume is a salt print of (presumably) Whitehurst and more than a dozen of his photographers, significant because no other portrait of Whitehurst is know to exist.

Ruggles pays significant attention to the era of Civil War photography, noting that the war's effect on Southern states such as Virginia kept photography in reduced circumstances and holding to the older methods, while in the North new formats became standardized and photography boomed. Nonetheless, Virginia's photographic heritage was well served, with ambrotypes, cartes de visite, tintypes, albumen and salt prints proliferating, and several awe-inspiring large-format images by the great Civil War photographer Timothy O'Sullivan, whose shot of Chesterfield Bridge in North Anna and of the Petersburg Mill powerfully depict the labors of Civil War troops on the move.

After the war, with Virginia's economy in tatters, the state's photographic profile was marked by itinerant community photography and a focus on domestic subject matter, but with the emergence of more practical, dry-plate photography in the 1880s, Virginian photography took off in fresh directions. Among the most notable photographers of this burgeoning era were Michael Miley and his son, Henry, of Lexington. They were the first Virginians to experiment with color photography, utilizing a tri-color process, and Ruggles includes several excellent examples of the Mileys' best work. A three-layer carbon print of red and white flowers in a vase is a particularly successful early color specimen, as is a close-up image of a bowl of peaches, with subtle gradations of orange and yellow and a fine, unsaturated color realism. These and countless other examples of noteworthy Virginian photography--especially a rich trove of 20th-century images--make this book a must for anyone interested in vintage Americana.

FIFTY BRITISH CALOTYPES.

By Robert Hershkowitz. 2008, 50 color plates; ISBN No. 978-0-9560594-0-6. Robert Hershkowitz Ltd, Cockhaise, Monteswood Lane, Lindfield, Sussex RH16 2QP, England; Phone: +44 (0) 1444 482240; email: prhfoto@btconnect.com .

This catalogue of vintage British paper-negative photography represents Robert Hershkowitz's keen passion for the classic images of photography's early days, including an 1842 William Henry Fox Talbot "Bust of Patroclus," and important salt prints by the likes of Roger Fenton, Linnaeus Tripe, and brothers Alfred, Thomas and Edward Backhouse, among others. To a one, these prints exude remarkable immediacy (helped along by the catalogues' high-quality reproductions), while the wonderful variety of subject matter ranges from important views of architectural facades (Nicolas Henneman's Westminster Abbey, for example, and numerous archways by William Pumphrey, Alfred Capel Cure, Thomas Keith and George Robert Fitt) to landscapes, seascapes and such antiquities as Claudius Galen Wheelhouse's view of the interior of the Parthenon.

Inasmuch as these early artists tended to focus on the macro, seeking broad, emblematic views of their powerful natural and architectural subjects, such photographers as Hugh Owen sought rich detail in his images of tree roots and wells in rustic country settings, while Edward Backhouse's misty, snow-laden image of a cast iron bridge is crammed with nautical detail and urban atmosphere. And Alfred Backhouse captures timeless nuance in his 1855 albumen print, a sweeping view of a street in Genoa, Italy, in which the play of light on the tall house fronts, with their innumerable shuttered windows, has a near-cinematic power and rhythm.

Hershkowitz is as much attuned to the aesthetic breakthroughs of these early masterworks as to their value as collectibles, and in his introduction to the catalogue he persuasively locates the poetry of Roger Fenton's great 1852 salt print, "Cottage Overlooking the Dnieper, Kiev," a view of a ramshackle cottage in a parched Russian landscape. He writes: "This unpretentious little photograph, in which the world is represented as two interlocking 'yin-yang' halves, one suggesting emptiness and the other the fullness of being, was a twofold revelation to me: one, that a photograph could be a spiritual statement--Fenton revealing visual structures in the natural, material world that are mirrored in the fundamental human mind--and two, that photographers, in general, could see more than they could say; a meaningful critical vocabulary, for the most part, came into existence only years after the fact of their photographs."

OTHER PHOTO BOOKS AND CATALOGUES:

ALEC SOTH'S latest publication, "LAST DAYS OF W.", debuted at the Weinstein Gallery's booth at Paris Photo late last year, and it is a subtly sardonic look at America at the tail end of the Bush administration. These 44 color photographs are of spiritually barren places, spaces and stymied citizens whose lives seem utterly shadowed by recession and the Bush Doctrine despite the dearth of shadow or shading in these ironically bright images. Soth works mainly through indirection, as in a shot of a soldier whose forlorn peanut butter sandwiches seem to be spread with jelly the color of blood, or an image of birds picturesquely floating above a trash field, or the desolate streets of Paris, TX. Printed on folded, tabloid-sized newsprint, "Last Days of W." is a grimly comic reminder of where we've been and how far we have to go. Information: Weinstein Gallery, 908 West 46th St, Minneapolis, MN, phone: 1-612-822-1722; email: weingall@aol.com ; website: http://www.weinstein-gallery.com .

"JU/'HOANSI" is a sampling of photographs by DAVID BRUCE, whose project has been to document what remains of the culture of the indigenous Ju/'hoan people of Namibia. Sponsored by Sotheby's, this small book powerfully represents Bruce's sensitive black-and-white studies of Ju/'hoan elders and youth, as they pose with dignity and pride, showing off their crafts and the fruits of their hunting in the unforgiving veldt. Information: dave@davebrucephotography.com .

"PHOTO 2, CATALOGUE NO.65" from Simon Finch Rare Books offers details and pricing of more than 100 important photography books, depicted alphabetically, from Slim Aarons' "A Wonderful Time" of 1974 and Berenice Abbott's "Changing New York" of 1939 to Yashioka Yasuhiro's "Jyuai [Third Venus]" from 1971. In between, many seminal first edition and/or signed copies of seminal works such as Robert Mapplethorpe's "Black Males", Le Corbusier's "Des Cannons, Des Munitions? Merci/Des Logis…S.V.P", Peter Hujar's "Portraits in Life and Death" and Nan Goldin's "The Ballad of Sexual Dependency" are displayed here. Information: http://www.simonfinch.com , email: rarebooks@simonfinch.com .


Matt Damsker is an author and critic, who has written about photography and the arts for the Los Angeles Times, Hartford Courant, Philadelphia Bulletin, Rolling Stone magazine and other publications. His book, "Rock Voices", was published in 1981 by St. Martin's Press. His essay in the book, "Marcus Doyle: Night Vision" was published in the fall of 2005.

He currently reviews books for U.S.A. Today.

(Book publishers, authors and photography galleries/dealers may send review copies to us at: I Photo Central, 258 Inverness Circle, Chalfont, PA 18914. We do not guarantee that we will review all books or catalogues that we receive. Books must be aimed at photography collecting, not how-to books for photographers.)