NEW YORK, NY.- From Sermons in Stones to Monsters of Modernity. Early French Photography and the Church brings together two of the greatest achievements of Western civilisation: Gothic architecture and the invention of photography.
The exhibition title references the religious significance of the portal programmes of Gothic cathedrals with their multiple biblical scenes as well as the gargoyles of Notre Dame that were the mid-nineteenth century invention of Viollet-le-Duc.
The exhibition traces the ways in which the great Gothic churches and cathedrals of France were placed at the heart of their work by the most important French photographers of the 1840s and 1850s.
The artists presented will include Edouard Baldus, Edmond Bacot, Hippolyte Bayard, Bisson Frères, Gustave Le Gray, Ange Mailand, Pierre Manguin, Charles Nègre, Emile Pecarrere (Em. Pec.), Henri Le Secq, Varin Frères.
The exhibition is accompanied by a new book on the subject with an essay by James Hyman. In it Hyman argues: The daemons of science, positivism and modernism have conspired to obscure spirituality and humanism by equating photography with realism and photography of architecture with a merely documentary function. Instead he proposes that:
The Gothic revival of the mid nineteenth century and specifically the legacy of Victor Hugos novel, Notre Dame (1831) provided a lead towards a creative, subjective, even fantastic approach to the photographic motif
. Whilst it may be more comfortable to ally early photographers, first to the enlightenment and then to Modernism, the preponderance of religious images suggests something more complex in their negotiation between the forces of church and state. The more one engages with content, as well as technique and form, the more one appreciates that the first years of photography in France from patronage to production are inextricably linked with a revived interest not just in Frances cultural patrimonie, and specifically a renewed appreciation of this Gothic ecclesiastical past, but also religious revivalism.
Highlights include Charles Nègres intimate depiction of a priest seated at prayer, rare salt prints by Pierre Manguin and a selection of extraordinary salt prints of cathedral portals by Brebisson, Em. Pec., Le Secq, Bisson Frères and Nègre.