The New Wave of Old Photography
By Timothy P. Cross
Nowadays, it sometimes seems that anyone can be a photographer.
Sophisticated, affordable, one-click cameras and the growing
popularity of digital photography, which doesn't even need
processing, have made photography simple in a way unimaginable when
Kodak introduced its revolutionary Brownie camera a generation
In a direct counterpoint to this point-and-shoot revolution, a
renegade group of contemporary photographers has turned to
19th-century processes - ambrotype, calotype, cyanotype,
daguerreotype, orotone, photogram and tintype - as alternative ways
of creating images. This trend in modern photography is chronicled
in Photography's Antiquarian Avant-Garde: The New Wave in Old
Processes, by Lyle Rexer '73. Featuring 120 color images
and works by 60 artists, this is the only book to chart this
worldwide photographic revival. The members of this avant-garde,
including Adam Fuss, Sally Mann and Jayne Hinds Bidaut, are drawn
to physical, hands-on facets of photography, and the diverse,
idiosyncratic results that they produce.
Photography's Antiquarian Avant-Garde: The New Wave in
Old Processes, by Lyle Rexer '73.
A former Rhodes Scholar from Columbia, Rexer lives in Park
Slope, Brooklyn, and writes regularly about art and photography for
The New York Times, Art in America, Art on Paper and
Metropolis, among others. "I like to think I am following in
the footsteps of the illustrious Michael Fried, now at Johns
Hopkins, a pioneer in the criticism of abstract painting," says
Rexer of his work. Rexer's other books include American Museum
of Natural History: 125 Years of Expedition and Discovery
(Harry N. Abrams, 1995). He also contributed a CCT cover
story on the connections between Columbia and the American Museum
of Natural History in New York (CCT, Spring 1996).
Rexer's work on the museum indirectly led to his photography
project. "I was already thinking about 19th-century photography
because of my book on the natural history museum," he says, when he
walked into an exhibit of photographs made with antique methods in
the Sarah Morthland Gallery in Chelsea, Manhattan. "I had to find
out who was doing this stuff," he said. The process, which took
three years, culminated in Photography's Antiquarian
An essay by Chuck Close and an interview with Sally Mann, two
photographers at the forefront of the revival, supplement Rexer's
text, which highlights the importance of the new/old movement for
art and photography. A glossary helps explain the diverse, labor
intensive methods that the artists use.
In conjunction with the book's publication, the Sarah Morthland
Gallery hosted an exhibition of photographs by the artists
represented in Rexler's book, including Mann, Bidaut, Ellen Carey,
Anna Hammond, Sally Larsen, Luis Gonzalez Palma and Jerry Spagnoli.
The exhibition ran from June 13 to August 10 and featured a book
signing by Rexer.
Photography's Antiquarian Avant-Garde: The New Wave in Old
Processes is published by Harry N. Abrams and sells for $49.95.
For more information, visit www.abramsbooks.com.