NEW YORK - This exhibition contains 23 hand-colored salt print photomicrographs by Ernst Heeger from the portfolio Album microscopisch-photographischer Darstellungen aus dem Gebiete der Zoologie (Album of microscopic photographs from the Field of Zoology). These extraordinarily abstract images are explained in the gallery’s 2021 calendar with an essay by Monika Faber:
Ernst Heeger’s portfolio, the world’s first extensive collection of original photographs made using a solar microscope, was the fruit of an extraordinary collaboration. Heeger, an amateur entomologist and graduate of the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts, was absolutely obsessed with the most exact reproduction possible of the tiny objects of his research. Alois Auer (Austrian, 1813-1869) was equally farsighted and ambitious. In 1842 he set out to turn the Austrian Imperial - Royal Court and State Press (k. k. Hof- und Staatsdruckerei), then a rather middling press, into a highly innovative international business.
Heeger was accustomed to drawing what he observed through his solar microscope to create precise representations. In 1851, however, he formulated the concept of “photographing such objects in order to free the views from exaggerations” and avoid the errors that often occurred in hand-drawn illustrations. Instead of acquiring the technology himself, he turned to Auer’s establishment. This request was opportune for Auer, since he aspired to advance the application of photography for scientific research.
In 1853, Auer published a Heeger photomicrograph of a caterpillar with relatively slight magnification, and the caterpillar remained recognizable. The greatly magnified images of the spider jaws, butterfly wings and proboscises in the portfolio were completely different. They offered no associations with the familiar appearances of insects, at least not for the layperson. The images are complete abstractions, and it was precisely this that fascinated the public.
There were three different versions of Heeger’s publication. The finest was the quarto edition with monochrome salt prints mounted on gilt stamped paper that sold out quickly. Heeger hand-colored a few as deluxe copies. The present examples are from one of these rare portfolios.
The exhibition is on view from January 21st to April 16th.