Wading Through Water
Water, thou hast no taste, no color, no odor; canst not be defined, art relished while ever mysterious. Not necessary to life, but rather life itself, thou fillest us with a gratification that exceeds the delight of the senses. By thy might, there return into us treasures that we had abandoned. By thy grace, there are released in us all the dried-up runnels of our heart. Of the riches that exist in the world, thou art the rarest and also the most delicate… For thou, water, art a proud divinity, allowing no alteration, no foreignness in thy being. And the joy that thou spreadest is an infinitely simple joy.
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Wind, Sand and Stars, 1939
NEW YORK – Wading Through Water, an exhibition of work by photography’s masters, is on view at Hans P. Kraus Jr. Fine Photographs from October 1 through December 23, 2020. The exhibition presents a selection of chiefly 19th century photographs, beginning with H. Fox Talbot’s Rustic Bridge and ending with ARK by Adam Fuss, and includes pictures from Britain, France and China. Among the exhibited artists are Eugène Cuvelier, Roger Fenton, André Giroux, J. B. Greene, Hill & Adamson, Gustave Le Gray, Linnaeus Tripe, Tung Hing, and vicomte Vigier, among others.
The wide-ranging exhibition features fine photographic prints of tranquil lakes, rivers, waterfalls and floods; water is also depicted as a cleansing agent and as a habitat for fish. As a whole, the exhibition documents bodies of water before the adverse effects of industrialization begin to seep in.
Gustave Le Gray trained as a painter in the studio of Paul Delaroche and exhibited in the Paris Salon. While Le Gray’s exceptional vision is evident throughout his oeuvre, his seascapes are the works for which he is most celebrated. The striking ocean view in Normandy in the exhibition, Effet de soleil dans les nuages-Océan, 1856-57, demonstrates Le Gray’s mastery of the medium with a tour de force combination of clouds, open sea, and sunlight. It is one in a series of poetic and meditative seascapes that brought him international acclaim for their technical and artistic achievement.
As a landscape photographer, Roger Fenton was without parallel among his contemporaries, recording bucolic escapes from the congested urban life of industrialized England. In his Landscape with waterfall, a salt print from a collodion negative from the 1850s, a rustic bench provided the perfect setting for a couple to enjoy the rushing water.
The play of light and atmosphere in Fenton’s picturesque landscape views can evoke the paintings of Constable and Turner, frequently striking viewers as something other than photographs.
In Willows Along the Scarp River, near Arras, a late 1850s salt print from a paper negative, Eugène Cuvelier delights in the gentle bend in the river on a windless day precisely reflecting the pollarded trees and sky, punctuated by three distant farmhouses. Cuvelier grew up in the artistic milieu of Arras. Guided by his father, a skilled photographer, and his friend Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, he studied painting with Constant Dutilleux, who took him on plein-air painting journeys to Barbizon and the forest of Fountainebleau.
D. O. Hill & Robert Adamson made a survey of contemporary life in the picturesque Scottish fishing village of Newhaven, just outside Edinburgh. In Jeanie Wilson and Annie Linton, an 1845 salt print from a calotype negative in the series, the photographers saw that the true character and beauty of the fishwives was intimately connected to their way of life and the precarious nature of their ties to the hard-working fishermen, often absent at sea. In Still life with Fish, an early autochrome from 1907, the Lumière Brothers Studio composed an artful still life in the tradition of the old master painters. Here, realistic colors are seen in photography for the first time.
ARK by Adam Fuss, a gelatin silver print photogram, is a rhythmic study of a single drop of water creating concentric circles. It is a timeless print, but this unique work was made in 2005.