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Recollection: Thirty Years of Photography at The New York Public Library


September 29th, 2010 - January 2nd, 2011

Henri Cartier-Bresson compared portraits to a visual reverberation, in which “the people come back to you like a silent echo. A photograph is a vestige of a face, a face in transit.” His definition of portraiture (appealing to themes of recall, repetition, and return) also applies more generally to photography itself, describing a medium that has been repeatedly renegotiated over its short history, whether in terms of mechanical reproduction, documentary evidence, or as an independent art. Recollection, along with its online multimedia presentation, celebrates thirty years of photography at The New York Public Library.

Photography at NYPL traces its origins back to the opening of the Astor Library in 1849, a decade after Louis Daguerre announced the first commercially viable photographic process to the world. Photographs have been part of the Library ever since, whether collected as supporting reference matter for various divisions or as original source material based on depicted subjects. “Photography” as a distinct research category and collecting division, however, was not formally recognized until thirty years ago.

Robin Bowman's July 2, 2004 portrait of Patrick Roberts, age 19. NYPL, Photography Collection.Robin Bowman's July 2, 2004 portrait of Patrick Roberts, age 19. NYPL, Photography Collection. In 1980, the Library officially launched the Photography Documentation Project to record original photographic material throughout the Library and in 1982, the Photography Collection was established. Thousands of photographs were transferred into the collection, which today comprises 500,000 photographs by 6,000 photographers. This exhibition celebrates thirty years of photography at the Library with a selection of portraits that have become part of the Photography Collection (whether through transfer, donation, or purchase) since 1980.

Among the more than 90 photographers whose work will be shown are Berenice Abbott, Vito Acconci, Diane Arbus, Eugène Atget, Richard Avedon, Margaret Bourke-White, Brassaï, Robert Capa, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Walker Evans, Robert Frank, André Kertész, William Klein, Duane Michals, Irving Penn, August Sander, Cindy Sherman, Stephen Shore, and William Wegman.


And don't miss Recollection online, featuring a short film and a new song by the Chicago-based duo Houses.

This exhibition has been made possible by the continuing generosity of Miriam and Ira D. Wallach.

Support for The New York Public Library's Exhibitions Program has been provided by Celeste Bartos, Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III, Mahnaz Ispahani Bartos and Adam Bartos Exhibitions Fund, Jonathan Altman, and Pannonia Foundation.

Top right: Amy Arbus (American, born 1954). "Ann Magnuson on Park Avenue." Gelatin silver print, 1981.
NYPL, Wallach Division, Photography Collection. EHA Foundation Fund, 2006. © Amy Arbus
Above: Robin Bowman (American, born 1960). "Patrick Roberts, Age 19, Lawrence, Kansas. Shot on July 2, 2004 in Lawrence, KS"; from the series It’s Complicated: The American Teenager. Selenium-toned gelatin silver print, 2004.
NYPL, Wallach Division, Photography Collection. Library purchase, 2008. © Robin Bowman, from her book It's Complicated: The American Teenager.