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September 19, 2017 @ 5:30 pm – 7:00 pm
The Library Company of Philadelphia
1314 Locust Street
Philadelphia, PA 19107, Philadelphia
PA 19107
Library Company of Philadelphia

Looking Out the Window: Early Photographs on Metal and Paper

Hosted by the Visual Culture Program

5:30 pm: Reception

6:00 pm: Lecture with Ellen Handy, 2015-2016 William H. Helfand Visual Culture Fellow


About the Lecture:

Photography is often described as a metaphoric window on the world, and many of the most important early photographs were literally views of the world seen from windows. What do such photographs tell us when we explore them in relation to the institutional contexts where they are found?

To date, the history of photography has primarily been a story told through great museum, library and archives’ collections, and told very differently depending on the nature of the collection. Studying collections of images rather than just individual images provides broader insight into the nature of the medium. The Library Company’s photographic collections are a case in point, and they differ in interesting ways from those of other important American photography collections.

When photography first arrived in the United States in 1839, Philadelphia immediately became a leading center of photographic business. Photographs and photographic literature from those early days of the medium quickly found homes in the Library Company’s collection, illustrating the intersection of the history of technology and the social history of Philadelphia. This lecture explores photographs by Robert Montgomery Bird, W. & F. Langenheim, and others at the Library Company in relation to early photographic views in other collections.

About the Speaker:

Ellen Handy teaches art history at The City College of New York, specializing in the history of photography.  Formerly curator of collections at the International Center of Photography in New York, she has curated numerous photography exhibitions and published widely on photography and the arts. She is presently at work on a new general survey of the medium’s history, titled Histories of Photography: An Introduction.

Her research for this project has been supported by the Library Company of Philadelphia; the Houghton Library, Harvard University; the Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona, and the Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas.

 About the Visual Culture Program:

Launched in 2008, the Visual Culture Program (VCP) promotes the use of historical images as primary sources for studying the past and fosters research, collection, and interpretation of historic visual material. Scholars and the general public are increasingly aware of the importance of visual images in examining the past. With the proliferation of sophisticated digitization technologies, researchers now have the opportunity to “see” images in new ways. No longer considered secondary to text and used merely to illustrate the written word, visual materials are taking their rightful place as primary evidence that documents the past and influences our understanding of the present. Through exhibitions, research fellowships, conferences, acquisitions, and public programs, VCP promotes the creative use of the Library Company’s varied collections of visual materials.

 Image: Robert Montgomery Bird, 900 Block Filbert Street, North Side, Toward Eighth, 1853. Paper negative

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