The Living Mirror: Luminaries of 20th-Century Modernist Photography

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    Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976). 'Magnolia Blossom,' 1925. Gelatin silver print. Purchase, 1987 (19855).

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    Edward Weston (American, 1886-1958). 'Nude,' 1936. Gelatin silver print. Anonymous gift, 1940 (17559.5). ©1981 Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents

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    Edward Weston (American, 1886-1958). 'Cabbage Leaf,' 1931. Gelatin silver print. Anonymous gift, 1940 (17559.1). ©1981 Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents

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April 12, 2012 - August 12, 2012
Honolulu Museum of Art

Exhibition Overview

At the close of the 19th century, photography shifted from a pictorial style, characterized by images with soft lighting, brilliant highlights and rich blacks that were manipulated and reconstructed during the printing process. A new society called the Photo Secessionists was formed, and their credo was to advance photography as “pure” or “straight,” meaning that the medium would be devoid of manipulation, free of Victorian sentimentality, and painterly subjects.  

This exhibition of photographs from the museum’s collection demonstrates how photography evolved from Pictorialism to a new emphasis on craft described by art critic Susan Sontag as “impeccable lighting, skill of composition, clarity of subject, precision of focus, perfection of print quality.” On view are iconic works by some of the most innovative and influential 20th-century American and European photographers who played a key role in shaping the evolution of photography and legitimizing it as an art form.

From still lifes of household items and botanical studies, nudes, and portraits of the cultural elite, to the grandeur of the American West, these photographs concentrate on a broad variety of subjects and are given equal significance.

Each photograph stands alone as a beautifully composed gem celebrated not only for its technical perfection but also for the photographer’s bold and direct gaze on the vital essence of his subject. As photographer Edward Steichen wrote, “Look at the subject, think about it before photographing, look until it becomes alive and looks back at you.”