Discovering the Language of Photography The Gernsheim Collection Response to the exhibit at the Harry Ransom Center, UT campus
Erica Stivison GDES 3300 Professor Sullivan October 4, 2010
n an exhibit focused on photography, I begin to evaluate the impact photography has made in graphic design. With an increased appreciation for photography from my experience with a black and white photo class – making my own prints and developing my own negatives – the exhibit at the Ransom Center was more than interesting to me. Seeing the stages from heliographs and daguerreotypes to salted paper prints and gelatin silver prints, I begin to appreciate the art and craft behind the entire process of photo making. Without the invention of photography, graphic design would not be where it is today. The relationship between text and image has exponentially grown with the use of photos in addition to/replace of an illustrated image. Seeing the progression from the first image captured with a camera to twentieth century photography masters like Henry Peach Robinson, Julia Margaret Cameron and one of my favorites, Man Ray, sheds light on the evolution of design. One comment on a photograph that stuck with me read, “How does caption affect one’s interpretation of a photograph?” Instantly I thought of relationship between text and image that plays a crucial role in design. The introduction of using
pictures into text dominated forms â€“ such as announcements and other earlier forms of advertising â€“ brought a whole new layer to the technical and overall development process of other forms of art, such as design. The path that photography followed to where it is today can be easily compared to the path text followed from before the printing press. Text has dramatically advanced since days of the woodblock typesetting presses just as photography has from the wet plate developments and long exposure times. Along with the development of how a picture is made, we see a similar route in the evolution of the content and composition of photography. As technical advances have alleviated the process of creating a photograph, artists
today still study how to capture a photo and what to capture. This can also relate to the design of letterforms. I hold a great appreciation for those artists who had an idea what they wanted to create, but not the exact means to create it, so they invented. Playing with chemicals and paper types, exposure times and developing processes, photographers, in my view, are sheer scientists with an eye for design. Designing a method is perhaps more involved than designing a photo.
However, there were some photos in the exhibition that struck me as impressive. In particular Brett Weston’s Mono Lake, California with striking contrast between the white snow and the black shore, along with the crisp reflection of the sky creating a dreamy image, one that demands your attention as you get lost in the horizon. Even though the exhibit lacked American greats, such as Ansel Adams, it included important pioneers that made an impact on the state of photography today. My appreciation for photography has indeed increased while I can say the same for design. I will be sure to keep an eye out for photographers that not only produce captivating images, but also those that influence the process of photo making.
Photo: Vallée de Chamonix vue du Chapeau by Frères Bisson (1860)