Exhibitions Chronicle History of Photography, Life During Civil War

September 04, 2018

An exhibition opening at Grinnell College's Faulconer Gallery tracks the evolution of photography from an emerging medium to one of the world's most prolific forms of expression.

Running Sept. 28 through Dec. 15, "Irresistible Images: Photographs from a Private Collection" features more than 200 photos from the dawn of photography in the 1840s through the early 20th century. Some of the prints are by the world's most famous photography pioneers — others are by completely unknown and anonymous individuals.

The exhibition is drawn from the collection of Nigel Maister, Russell and Ruth Peck Artistic Director of the University of Rochester International Theatre Program, who collaborated on the selection of the photographs in the exhibition with Daniel Strong, associate director and curator of exhibitions at the Faulconer Gallery.

"This exhibition chronicles photography's rise as a popular art form, a tool for self-expression and for documenting our world, and a lever for social change," Strong said.

In a time when billions of people carry a camera in their cell phones — and 95 million photos and videos are added to Instagram every day — the exhibition provides an opportunity to reflect on the universal nature of photography. It also serves as a reminder of the transition from print to digital photography and provokes thought about the implications of that shift.

"In 2018, more photos are taken every day than were taken in the first 100 years of the medium," Strong said. "But interestingly, most of those photos don't physically exist in the world. Many of them, if they're shared through services like Snapchat, even disappear after a few seconds. I hope this exhibition will inspire viewers to be more thoughtful about the images they take and share, and especially about how they preserve their images — to ensure that 100 years from now, the 21st century photographic record will be as rich, varied and accessible as that of the 19th and 20th centuries."

A free public discussion of the exhibition is scheduled for 4 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 6, in the Faulconer Gallery. Maister and Strong will be joined by Daile Kaplan, vice president and director of photographs and photobooks at Swann Auction Galleries, New York City's oldest auction house, where she's also an auctioneer. Kaplan frequently appears as a guest expert on "Antiques Roadshow" on PBS.

Also opening Sept. 28, "Watercolors of Corporal John Gaddis: Documenting the Civil War" features a series of 14 watercolor paintings by a Union army soldier in the 1860s. Gaddis captured daily life in army camps where he was stationed in Camp Randall, Wisconsin, and during military campaigns in Kansas, Mississippi and Tennessee.

A farmer in civilian life, Gaddis received no formal art training; he painted his works during his three years of service between 1861 and 1864. His regiment, the Twelfth Wisconsin Infantry, entered federal service at Camp Randall in November 1861. It participated in three of the most famous campaigns of the Civil War — the siege of Vicksburg, the capture of Atlanta and Sherman's March to the Sea.

The exhibition is on loan through Nov. 24 from the Wisconsin Veterans Museum based in Madison, Wisconsin. It is remarkable in part because it complements the relatively limited selection of photography that was captured during the war. Besides the watercolors in this exhibit, only two other works by Gaddis are known to exist — another Civil War drawing owned by a private collector and an oil portrait in the collection of the Wisconsin Historical Society.

Gallery Location and Hours

The Faulconer Gallery is located in Grinnell College’s Bucksbaum Center for the Arts, 1108 Park St., Grinnell. Gallery hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday, closed on Sundays and major holidays.