Brilliance of Slow Photography
Unless you look for it you may pass by this gem of an exhibition in the Howard Gilman Gallery, the first gallery on the right on the second floor of the Met (take the elevators at the small southern entrance up to the great corridor of the B. Gerald Cantor Sculpture Gallery now wholly taken over by Rodin) but like a backwater off a broad and turbulent river, you’ll find a singular oasis of calmness and depth which will transport you if you pay it careful attention into a different artistic universe, one of exquisite finesse and timeless aesthetic at the peak of what one might label ‘slow photography’, the period between 1900 and the 1930s in which the aristocratic, gay, Paris-born de Meyer flourished as a master of still lifes, portraits of his high society friends (including here is a serpent long Josephine Baker from 1925) and eventually after the start of World War I in New York trailblazing fashion exposures which graced the pages of Vogue, Harpers Bazaar and other clothing bibles of the time with such extraordinary beauty that they appear to occupy a higher realm than the temporary preoccupations of the text, his images early admired by Stieglitz eventually driving Cecil Beaton to exclaim that De Moyer had created “a new universe”, using tricks such as a light bulb under a model’s skirt or draping gauze over the camera, which can here be seen in copies of the magazine displayed in the floor cabinet of this essential exhibition, mounted by curator Beth Saunders from the Met’s own collection, including his 1912 series of the then scandalously sexy Ballets Russes Afternoon of a Faun by Nijinsky and Debussy, plus one of the seven copies left of the 1914 edition of the handcrafted book of thirty collotypes that resulted, though none of the images on the walls here are very erotic, or sensational in any way, only repaying quiet attention and contemplation to yield their virtues fully otherwise hidden from the impatient, here joined as well by his early experiment in autochrome color in 1907 featuring Tamara Karsavina of the Baller Russe, originally as a colored glass plate which has to be illuminated from behind, but here as a facsimile transparency, still with a rather special effect, but like all of these aesthetically resonant works its real quality is only apparent if you gaze upon it for a significant time.
Quicksilver Brilliance: Adolf de Meyer Photographs at the Met’s Howard Gilman Gallery (852)
A member of the “international set” in fin-de-siècle Europe, Baron Adolf de Meyer (1868–1946) was also a pioneering art, portrait, and fashion photographer, known for creating images that transformed reality into a beautiful fantasy. The “quicksilver brilliance” that characterized de Meyer’s art led fellow photographer Cecil Beaton to dub him the “Debussy of the Camera.”
Opening December 4 at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Quicksilver Brilliance: Adolf de Meyer Photographs will be the first museum exhibition devoted to the artist in more than 20 years and the first ever at The Met. Some 40 works, drawn entirely from The Met collection, will reveal the impressive breadth of his career.
The exhibition will include dazzling portraits of well-known figures of his time: the American socialite Rita de Acosta Lydig; art patron and designer Count Étienne de Beaumont; aristocrat and society hostess Lady Ottoline Morrell; and celebrated entertainer Josephine Baker, among others.
A highlight of the presentation will be an exceptional book—one of only seven known copies—documenting Nijinsky’s scandalous 1912 ballet L’Après-Midi d’un Faune. This rare album represents de Meyer’s great success in capturing the choreography of dance, a breakthrough in the history of photography. Also on view will be the artist’s early snapshots made in Japan, experiments with color processes, and inventive fashion photographs.
Born in Paris and educated in Germany, de Meyer was of obscure aristocratic German-Jewish and Scottish ancestry. He and his wife, Olga Caracciolo, goddaughter of Edward VII, were at the center of London’s café society.
After starting in photography as an amateur, de Meyer gained recognition as a leading figure of Pictorialism and a member of the photographic society known as the Linked Ring Brotherhood in London. Alfred Stieglitz exhibited de Meyer’s work in his Little Galleries of the Photo-Secession and published his images as photogravures in his influential journal Camera Work.
At the outbreak of World War I, de Meyer settled in the United States and applied his distinctive vision to fashion as the first staff photographer at Vogue and Vanity Fair, and later at Harper’s Bazaar, helping to define the genre during the interwar period.
The exhibition was organized by Beth Saunders, Assistant Curator in The Met’s Department of Photographs.
The exhibition will be featured on the Museum’s website, as well as on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
December 4, 2017–March 18, 2018
The Met Fifth Avenue, Floor 2, The Howard Gilman Gallery, Gallery 852