Sunday, November 15, 2009

Sir, - I beg to bring to your notice the serious harm likely to come from the increasing popularity of photography. Since Mr. Talbot and M. Daguerre perfected their processes for fixing a living image on paper a few years ago, there has been an alarming increase in the popularity of this unnatural pastime. The stage has now been reached when permanent damage is likely to be inflicted not only on painting, engraving, and the arts in general, but upon industry, manners, and the home itself.

-- Unnamed Commentator, 1851

Nathan Lewis, Untitled, 2009

Saturday, November 7, 2009

A Wreath of white flowers....For She Who Sleeps
-- Excerpt from a letter to a deceased child

Nathan Lewis, Untitled, 2009


The Hennepin History Museum is putting on a fantastic exhibit dealing with Victorian Funerary traditions, that will thankfully run through May 2010.

The current exhibit at the Hennepin History Museum (ends May 2010) gives patrons, guests and visitors a chance to examine something we sometimes forget: While traditions of the past might seem strangely different, people will always be the same. Then…as now…people want to honor and remember loved ones... Also on display are furnishings, mourning garments and jewelry from the museum’s collection, these artifacts from 1850 to now, show how mourning traditions have evolved over the decades. The museum presents the answers to such questions as why did people wear black for a year, and how did the expression of grief evolve in both Europe and America? This exhibit will bring you close-up to one of life’s most intimate topics; death.

It is an incredibly intimate show, with a long lasting impression. Contrasting the title, there is a great deal of humanity in the exhibit.
The mementos and artifacts are displayed in a most bizarre manner, it seems less curated and more hastily assembled. The lack of straight labels and track lighting have the opposite effect of what you might imagine, instead of creating a campy silly presentation devoid of serious contemplation...some how everything ends up looking more real and tangible.
It truly felt like this was created by a person in mourning concerned less with tidiness and more with loss.
The exhibit almost stands as a wake for a time past.

Exterminating the romanticization of the Victorian Gothic aesthetic, you see the objects as participants of true mourning, with very somber and honest purposes.

We are so familiar with seeing Post Mortem photographs in text books, reproductions, and as sensationalized Movie props that when viewing the Museum's particularly disturbing collection, the experience takes your breath away. Being a product of the Western death culture, I am more comfortable encountering it in a clinical and detached manner. To see the torn edges and handwritten notations was completely different than to read about it.

One must wonder if the souls of the tragically deceased are still inhabiting the images, locked behind a silver veil.

A remarkable show!

A particularly interesting photograph portraying a deceased mother holding her live baby.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

1) Studium: "meanings that are nameable," "given cultural meanings that we understand at once"

2) Punctum: "a personal memory based not on the public archive but a private repertoire," "stings the viewer...some detail (some accident in the photograph)"; "occurs when there is a match between a signifier in the scene (in the photograph), and a scene in the memory"

-- Roland Barthes

Nathan Lewis, Untitled (Deer), 2009