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Investigating the Dawn of the Photograph
Exhibition Celebrates the Arrival of Thousands of 19th-Century American Photographs
ITHACA, N.Y. (Oct. 26, 2011) – Photography changed the course of history, offering Americans an entirely new view of themselves and their own country.
Now, through an exhibition at Cornell University Library, some of the country’s rarest, earliest and most important photographs will be on display for the world to see.
“Dawn’s Early Light: The First 50 Years of American Photography” features photographs and related artifacts about the technological development of photography — from daguerreotypes to gelatin prints — in the 19th century, while also illuminating the turbulent historic currents that shaped the nation.
The exhibition opened Oct. 20 in the Division of Rare and Manuscript Collection’s Hirshland Exhibition Gallery in Cornell’s Carl A. Kroch Library. The exhibited materials are highlights from a magnificent set of more than 16,000 19th-century American photographs from the Beth and Stephan Loewentheil Family Photographic Collection.
Highlights of the exhibition include:
- Multiple photographs by preeminent Civil War photographer Mathew Brady, including a large 1861 portrait of Abraham Lincoln, warmly inscribed to the wife of Lincoln's oldest and closest friend;
- Images documenting the Civil War, including a photograph of American Red Cross founder Clara Barton sitting with soldiers;
- A personal photograph album compiled by Mark Twain; and
- Photographs documenting African-American life, westward expansion and the rise of celebrity culture.
“Super-collectors like Stephan Loewentheil have enriched our Library in extraordinary ways,” said Anne R. Kenney, Carl A. Kroch University Librarian. “Without people who are dedicated to collecting and preserving historic artifacts, we would never be able to tell such a rich and complete story about our own history and the milieu from which Cornell was established.”
Its opening celebration is scheduled for Wednesday, Nov. 16 at 4:30 p.m. in Olin Library’s Amit Bhatia Libe Café. Deborah Willis, Chair of the Department of Photography & Imaging at the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University, will deliver a lecture entitled “Framing the 19th Century Photograph: Then and Now,” followed by a reception in the Carl A. Kroch Library. The opening events are funded through the generosity of Gail ’56 and Stephen Rudin.
“This collection from the Loewentheil family stands as one of Cornell Library’s most significant acquisitions,” said Katherine Reagan, curator of Rare Books and Manuscripts. “It provides rich visual documentation that will complement and extend the Library’s major textual collections on 19th-century America. Moving forward, the images in this collection will vastly increase our ability to understand our history.”
The exhibition will run through May 4, and it has been funded by generous support from the Loewentheil Family and the Stephen ’58, MBA ’59 and Evalyn Edwards ’60 Milman Exhibition Fund.
The extensive online exhibition is available on the Library’s website.
To learn more
Explore Cornell University Library’s Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections.
The Library puts some of the country’s rarest, earliest and most important photographs on display for the world to see