Nov 30, 2011

Review | The Dazzling Instant

Migrant Mother, Dorothea Lange 1936
I had been itching to go see this exhibition, The Dazzling Instant, up at the Witliff Collection ever since I heard that it was of almost all black and white traditional photography which presented some hugely iconic photos including; Dorothea Lange’s Migrant Mother, Ansel Adams Moonrise Over Hernandez, and Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima by Joe Rosenthal. It was pretty surprising to see works by such huge names in photographic history like Ansel Adams and Henri Cartier-Bresson in the Alkek library of all places but I was extremely pleased nonetheless. It was also very refreshing to see an entire exhibition of traditional photography even though the process is someone dated and some say falling out of fashion, it is still very current and practiced among contemporary photographers.

The time period of the photos shown ranged all the way from the early 1900’s to the 2000’s and all were made using traditional photography methods. All of the works were beautifully presented and catalogued and the themes flowed and fit together from one image to the next. Some of the photographs I was more drawn to were the ones closest to the entrance and exit of the exhibition, and were the more surreal and conceptual images by some artists' some contemporary and some not; Cathy Spence, Keith Carter, Robert and Shana Parkeharrison and Ken Rosenthal.

The Sower, Shana and Robert Parkeharrison, Photograuvure 2002
There were a few photos that really made me stop and investigate and do more research on my own such as the above photo by Shana and Robert Parkeharrison. I learned that this photo is from a series called The Architect's Brother, completed in 2005 which were choreographed scenarios about mans affect on the landscape.  These surreal images addressed issues about the earth and mankind's responsibility to heal the damage he has done to its landscape. I was very intrigued by this image at the gallery and how it connected with the photos around it. They all seemed to make a statement on the land, nature and man's interaction with it. As you moved throughout the gallery you began to get a sense more of Mexican-American history and culture emanating in each image. The Dazzling Instant was well conceived and cohesive and also and interesting viewpoint on Southwestern history and about nature. Overall the exhibition presented 95 images by 70 photographers, and this anniversary exhibition was inspired by Henri Cartier-Bresson who wrote, "The photograph is a guillotine blade that seizes on dazzling instant in eternity." I think that each photograph on display embodied this statement and could be seen as a powerful moment in time. 

-Kealy Racca


  1. I appreciated your blog because i like learning about photography and have also wrote about Dorothea Lange. I now want to go to Alkek library and see the show.
    -Anna Julian

  2. I've always been interested in Dorthea Lange's "Migrant Mother". Lange was just doing her job at the time, photographing those less fortunate during the 1930's. The way that she was able to capture the Migrant Mother's despair without truly engaging in the woman's personal life has always interested me. Without getting the mothers name or history Lange made Migrant Mother one of the most publicized photographs of the Great Depression.

    - Yael Palma

  3. Very interesting Blog. I've always found Dorthea Lange's works to be intriguing and now being informed about the show is a plus.

    -Eddie Richmond

  4. Being a photography major I think it is important to check out the works they have in the gallery often to see what is out there. When I saw the photography they have up in the gallery I was fascinated by the works that are focused more on the Hispanic Heritage. It is absolutely beautiful and it reminds me alot of my visits to Mexico, but in general all the works they have up are really amazing.

    -Clara Moreno

  5. Dorthea Lange's "Migrant Mother" is definitely a key image in the history of Photography, and although I do not personally enjoy its esthetics I was very excited to stand face to face with this famous piece.

    Upon arrival to the gallery I was disappointed to realize that this particular print was a 2007 reprint. Being a darkroom printer myself I value the art of the print as much as the moment of capture, and somehow felt deceived.

    After pondering this issue further I recalled the Farm Security Administration lecture given by our own Elizabeth Chiles, and the fact that these artists working under the government commission only made the initial exposure, then submitted their negatives back to the government for their editing and usage. Dorthea Lange mentions the "box containing all those rolls and packs of exposed film ready to mail back to Washington" in her field notes.

    After further investigation I still cannot determine for sure if there are any prints of this image made by Dorthea, but it appears that there are not.

    I also discovered that the rights of this image, and all other Farm Security Administration images belong strictly to the government and belong in public domain under the care of the Library of Congress
    Which would account for the numerous varying reproductions of this image.

    We see that this image is still prevalent for contemporary art in Noelle Fitzsimmons' post about Ben Ruggiro's work with this image.

    -Daniel Burns