Beyond Beauty: The Archive of Documentary Arts at Duke University

Beyond Beauty: The Archive of Documentary Arts at Duke University

Beyond Beauty: Photographs from the Duke University Special Collections Library featured more than 80 original photographs, films, personal artifacts and rare published portfolios, many of which were on view for the first time. The exhibition included photographic material from the 1860s to the present, selected from Duke’s Rare Book, Manuscript and Special Collections Library. The exhibition was organized by Duke’s Special Collections Library and the Nasher Museum.

Through the work of significant and well-known 19th century photographers as well as the work of contemporary documentary photographers, Beyond Beauty traced the history of the photographic print from albumen, platinum, gelatin silver, photogravure and color photographs to the most recent “born digital” examples. The famous Civil War photographer Mathew Brady was represented by his “General Grant on Lookout Mountain” of 1863. Seven original albumen prints by Timothy O’Sullivan, made in 1871 and 1873 on his expeditions to the American West, were on view, as were other iconic examples of stunning natural beauty by William Bell, John Hillers and William Henry Jackson. French photographer Félix Bonfils, who introduced European audiences to the Middle East, was represented by a work from his 1881 “Palestine Album.” The exhibition also included photographs by Eugène Atget, Julia Margaret Cameron, Peter Henry Emerson, Alfred Stieglitz, F. Holland Day, Peter Henry Emerson, Edward Steichen, Alvin Langdon Coburn, Lewis Hine, Doris Ulmann, Aaron Siskind, Gertrude Blom, Minor White and Sally Mann. The exhibition provided Duke faculty, students and visitors a context for dialogue and study across many disciplines.

Beyond Beauty featured works by 36 contemporary artists who specialize in documentary photography, the majority of whom agreed to place their entire body of work in Duke’s Archive of Documentary Arts at the Special Collections Library. Photographs by William Gedney, such as “Willie Cornett on hood of car passing a cigarette,” shot in Kentucky in 1972, were shown along with Gedney’s journal documenting his experience in Kentucky. Photographs from Paul Kwilecki’s 40-year study of Decatur County, Georgia, were included along with the work of Olive Pierce, Rob Amberg, Jesse Andrews and Cedric Chatterley, among others. Representative works from the library’s growing collection of South African documentary photography were on view. Photographs by well-known photographers such as David Goldblatt, Guy Tillim, Cedric Nunn and Paul Weinberg depicted racial and political struggles during and after apartheid.

Photographs from other collections at Duke also were on display, among them an Henri Cartier-Bresson 1946 image of Carson McCullers, from the McCullers archive, and the photograph Edward Steichen made to advertise Pond’s Cold Cream, one of the thousands of photographs in the J. Walter Thompson Co. archives at the library’s John W. Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising and Marketing History.

The exhibition was organized by the curatorial team of Sarah Schroth, Nancy Hanks Senior Curator at the Nasher Museum; Margaret Sartor, instructor at the Center for Documentary Studies; Karen Glynn, Visual Materials Archivist at the Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library; Patricia Leighten, professor of Art, Art History & Visual Studies; and Margaret Morrison, a Duke student intern at the Nasher Museum.

The exhibition was complemented by the book “Beyond Beauty: The Archive of Documentary Arts at Duke University” (2009, Duke University Libraries), highlighting the acquisition of contemporary documentary photography made over the last 30 years.