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Photographs: a closer look

See how photography is more than a mechanical art, but rather an art infused with imagination, as exemplified by works from photographers Cameron, Watkins, Käsebier, Ulmann, Evans, Stieglitz, Le Gray, and Hine. Created by Getty Museum.

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Video transcript

First you have to understand that many many visitors have never looked at a photograph as a work of art before. That's chiefly because photographs are so ubiquitous Their everywhere. Almost everyone has a camera. Almost everyone makes snapshots of their travels or their family. So, therefore, when people encounter photographs framed on the walls, they sometimes are a little baffled about what it is and why they are seeing it. There are certain photographers whose work I have always been particularly attracted to because of the strength and quality of the work itself. Two names from the nineteenth century are Julia Margaret Cameron the great British photographer, because the work is so rich and has been relatively unstudied. Another photographer from the nineteenth century is Carlton Watkins whose an American photographer. He is a particular favorite of mine, because of his particular approach, his very intellectual and yet emotional approach. In the twentieth century Gertrude Kasebier, Doris Ulmann, Walker Evans. These are some of my very favorites. Each of them produced a hand full of pictures or at least a single picture, that I kind of carry in a little imaginary wallet book. A book with my favorites in them. Among the preconceptions or misconceptions about photography is that it is a purely mechanical art, and that it is somehow lacking in imagination. Let's take for an example Gustave Le Gray photograph. He chooses a Beach tree that seems to be distinguished by nothing other than a gnarly root. The roll of the imagination here is one of not only choosing a tree that has great character, but also choosing to photograph it at a time of day, when the light is falling on it in a particularly magical and poetic way. The photographer has a relatively limited number of choices exclusively open to him. One is the light that it's going to be made in, second is what is idea behind the photograph, Third , where will I stand? Where will I hold the camera to observe what it is I decide to photograph? Alfred Stieglitz is chosen to photograph Georgia O'Keeffe with the camera at her waist level cutting off her head. Most photographs, individual photographs, don't have the kind of story to tell that the photographs Stieglitz made of O'Keeffe do tell. They tell practically every aspect of their relationship. It's moments of attachment. It's moments of estrangement. It's moments of formality. It's moments of informality.