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The History of Photo Sharing Explored in New Library Exhibition Highlighting the Social Side of Photography


Free retrospective, Public Eye: 175 Years of Sharing Photography, opens December 12 with more than 500 photos from the Library’s renowned collections

DEC. 12, 2014 -- Photography has always been social.

That’s the theme of The New York Public Library’s new exhibition Public Eye: 175 Years of Sharing Photography, opening at the Library’s landmark Stephen A. Schwarzman Building on Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street on December 12. 

The free show—displayed in the Library’s Gottesman Exhibition Hall until January 3, 2016 —draws on more than 500 images from the Library’s collections, mainly from the distinguished Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs. It showcases the different ways that photography has been shared by and with the public over the art form’s 175-year history—generations before new technology such as Instagram, Twitter and Facebook arose to give the public the ability to share images more widely than ever before. 

“Seen together, the works on view drive home a point made clear by today’s proliferation of digital imagery: photography has always been a technology dependent upon social interaction, mediation, and the public sphere. This exhibition examines photography’s origin and ongoing history in the public eye,” says Stephen C. Pinson, the Library’s Curator of Photography. “The exhibition also serves to highlight the commensurate roles of photographs and the Library as repositories for preserving and providing information.” Pinson curated the exhibition, the first retrospective survey of photography organized by NYPL, with Elizabeth Cronin, Assistant Curator of Photography.

To explore the notion that photography has long been predisposed to sharing, the show focuses around three themes:

Photosharing encompasses the dissemination and proliferation of photographs across different formats, various networks, and through personal archiving and sharing. Examples include: 

  • a rare 1863 brass locket containing twelve miniature albumen prints of General Tom Thumb’s wedding; 
  • a commemorative coffee can featuring an Ansel Adams image; and
  • Dorothea Lange’s iconic portrait Migrant Mother, which remains one of the most reproduced images of all time. 

Streetview looks to physical landscapes as the main stage for photography as both a site of mapping and a venue for the inherent public nature of photographic practice. Representations include: 

  • Eadweard Muybridge’s panorama of San Francisco; and 
  • Edouard Baldus’s Parisian views.
  • The contemporary works of Mishka Henner and Trevor Paglen serve to explore related issues of privacy by turning the camera back on the surveyors.

Crowdsourcing considers the theme two ways: photographic projects sourced from the public, and those using crowds as actual inspiration or subject matter. Examples include:

  • Ambrotype portraits of classmates in 1861;
  • the September 11 Photo Project; and
  • Dinanda Nooney’s photographic survey of Brooklyn families in the 1970s.

Additional highlights include works by Berenice Abbott, August Sander, Thomas Struth, Diane Arbus, Garry Winogrand, Dorothea Lange, Thomas Ruff, Edward Ruscha, Walker Evans, William Henry Fox Talbot, and Thomas Struth (who will appear as part of LIVE from the NYPL on Dec. 16; tickets at

The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts will also be holding associated programming in the form of “Selfie Sessions” featuring Mezzo-soprano Susanne Mentzer, a star in the Metropolitan Opera’s new production of "Le Nozze di Figaro," and clarinetist Anthony McGill, one of the world’s finest classical musicians. Each explore the idea of “sharing” by providing an unparalleled, behind-the-scenes look at their day-to-day work - illustrated with self-taken photos.  Additional guests will be announced during 2015. 

Major support for the exhibition provided by Robert B. Menschel — Vital Projects Fund. Additional support from the Carl Jacobs Foundation; the Bertha and Isaac Liberman Foundation, Inc., in memory of Ruth and Seymour Klein; an anonymous donor; and 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, and Jonathan Altman.

Press Contact: Sara Beth Joren | sarabethjoren [at] nypl [dot] org

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