Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Jane’s gentle nudge up the Nile

Francis Frith, English (1822-1898). The Great Pyramid of the Great Sphinx, 1858, Albumen print, Gift of the Hall Family Foundation, 2007.17.19.

Jane Aspinwall’s expedition began over two years ago with a map and a few rare 19th century guidebooks of Egypt. As curator, she shares the results of her journey in the form of 39 photographs taken when photography was in its infancy; Egyptian monuments and landscapes along the Nile. Book your passage from now until July 18 in the photography spaces of the Nelson-Atkin’s Bloch building. It’s free and very freeing.

No need to bring sunglasses, mosquito repellent, or a hat. Bring your eyes and your perspectives. Be prepared for a gentle nudge along the river in another time, long before Indiana Jones was a twinkle in anyone’s eye.

Absorb the delicate tones of the salt prints, juxtaposed with crisp albumen images. Stare at two, one of kind, daguerreotypes and be transported. View landscapes since flooded by the Aswan Project. Examine the images of a temple in situ that now resides in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

The delicate lighting, while protecting the images, serves to create a space of contemplation where one is drawn close to the images. Get close. Jane intended for you to take your time. Read the context descriptions first or read after you absorb the photos. Skip around the space, or follow geographically beginning at the map on the wall.

In the center of the space, Jane placed a copy of the “The Description of Egypt” under-glass. This historic book, produced in versions from 1809 to 1828, started with Napoleon’s voyage of Egypt in 1798. Later, along with his uniformed Grande Armée, he brought an army of scientists, historians, and artists who described and documented this place, people and ancient treasures. This book, inspired explorers, tourists, business-minded dealers, and after the invention of photography in 1839, photographers. I bet Indiana Jones has a copy of this at home.

In an age when we turn things into digital light that appear on our screens, in a time when we take virtual tours and “photoshop” reality, these artifacts of light through lens, developed on-site so many years ago, presented with elegance, lit with subtle care allowing you to peer through the lens once again, is a potential time machine if you allow Jane to nudge you up the Nile. This nudge, this curator’s art behind the art makes this art worth a trip.

Exploring Egypt
19the Century Expeditionary Photography
March 6 – July 18, 2010
at the Nelson Atkins Museum of Art
Gallery L11, the Bloch Building

Jane Aspinwall
Assistant Curator, Photography

Jane has worked with the Hallmark Photographic Collection since 1999. Previous to this appointment, she served as the curatorial assistant of Photography and worked in the American Art department of the Nelson-Atkins. Aspinwall received a master’s degree in 2001 in art history from the University of Missouri-Kansas City. She also holds a master’s degree in business administration with an emphasis in arts management received in 1992 from the University of Missouri-Columbia. She is a contributor to the book and a co-organizer of the exhibition Developing Greatness: Origins of American Photography, 1839-1885, one of the inaugural exhibitions held in the Museum’s Bloch Building in 2007

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