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The Genetic Wars by Barbara Confino

Our Guest Columnist, Deirdre Lawrence, Head Librarian at the Brooklyn Museum, introduces the first in a series about the Museum's outstanding photography collection.Brooklyn Museum: a legacy of collecting and exhibiting photography
Deirdre E. Lawrence
Photo by Gertrude Kasebier . Source: Brooklyn Museum 83.263 Gertrude Kasebier (American, 1852-1934). Blessed Art Thou Among Women, 1899. Photogravure, Brooklyn Museum, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Miguel LaSalle and Peter Sinclair.jpg
Gertrude Kasebier, "Blessed Art Thou Among Women" 1899
The Brooklyn Museum has a long, but little known, legacy of collecting and exhibiting photographs and formed what is believed to be the first school of photography associated with a museum in the United States. Clarence H. White, founder of the Photo-Secession movement, served as a professor of photography and instructor of the newly created school. Annual exhibitions of photography were begun in 1891, and continued through to 1940, with the Museum acquiring photography as an art form as early as 1899.

By 1927, collecting and exhibiting photography was established as a role for the Museum. Exhibitions devoted to specific photographers such as Gertrude Kasebier were held, along with thematic exhibitions such as International Photographers and several devoted to Pictorial photography. Meanwhile the collection continued to grow. Acquisitions included the work of Margaret Bourke-White, Edward Steichen, Berenice Abbott and Edward Weston.
Photo by Consuelo Kanaga . Source: Brooklyn Museum
Consuelo Kanaga, "Young Girl, Tennessee" 1948

With a focus on American photographers, these early beginnings have evolved into a wide and varied international collection of photographs, representing all genres of work from the abstract to the conceptual. A significant representation of Latin American photographers includes work from Manuel Alvarez Bravo, Graciela Iturbide and Consuelo Kanaga. Key images by Vivian Cherry, Latoya Ruby Frazier, Lewis Wickes Hines, Hank Willis Thomas and William Wegman are another highlight of the collection.
Photo by Latoya Ruby Frazier . Source: Brooklyn Museum
Latoya Ruby Frazier, "Grandma Ruby and Me" 2005

In addition to the archives of the Department of Prints, Drawings and Photographs, documentary photographs are held in most of the curatorial departments in the Museum including the Libraries and Archives. Their geographic coverage is encyclopedic.
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"Las Monjas, Chichen Itza, Yucatan Image from Views of ancient monuments in Central America, Chiapas and Yucatan"

In the collection are very early examples from the history of photography. Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatan (1841) by John L. Stephen and Frederick Catherwood and Views of Ancient Monuments in Central America, Chiapas and Yucatan, also by Catherwood, are some of the earliest examples of photographically illustrated books in the Museum. They contain Catherwood's engravings based on “daguerreotype views and drawings.” Popular when published, the Stephens and Catherwood books served as inspiration for many real, as well as armchair travelers, to these unknown sites.
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"Maudslay in his room at Chichen Itza"

One such person was Alfred Percival Maudslay, a British archaeologist and photographer. Travelling to Mexico and Central America in the 1880's, he photographed archaeological sites at Chichen Itza, Copan, Palenque and Quirigua. When exhibited at the Chicago Columbian Exposition in 1893, his large scale carbon prints captured the public's imagination and were a popular introduction to the little known temples and sites of that area.
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William Henry Goodyear, the Brooklyn Museum's First Curator of Fine Arts, saw the Maudslay photographs on view in Chicago and wrote to the Museum's Trustees requesting funds to purchase a set of the photographs and their attendant publications. Interested in how photography could document the world of art history, Goodyear thought these images would be a good foundation for the Museum's newly established department of American archaeology.
Beautiful examples of carbon gelatin printing, these photographs are also valued now for the documentary information they contain on sites that have been damaged or removed from their original location. Another acquisition, The Ruins of Mexico by Constantine George Rickards, is also an invaluable aid in reconstructing visual information about important archaeological sites and their monuments.
Since then, Brooklyn has continued collecting works of great historical and archeological value. Upcoming articles will explore the gamut of the collection, from the documentary to the cutting edge, focusing finally on the photo books that are a highlight of our contemporary collection.

Additional images are available at the Brooklyn Museum website

About the Author
Deirdre E. Lawrence is the Principal Librarian at the Brooklyn Museum where,since 1983, she has worked to establish the Museum Archives and to implement many projects to preserve and make accessible the Museum's research collections. Lawrence has worked on many collaborative projects including the New York Art Resources Consortium, and with the Brooklyn Historical Society, the Brooklyn Public Library and Pratt Institute the Brooklyn Visual Heritage project which is an online resource showcasing historical photographs of Brooklyn drawn from these respective collections. She has curated and co-curated exhibitions at the Brooklyn Museum and elsewhere including Artists Books (2000) and Points of Departure: Treasures of Japan from the Brooklyn Museum (2014).
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