PDN Photo of the Day

Photo-Electric History

Photography and electricity share an intertwined early life, starting with the rudimentary arc lamp Nadar used to light the Paris catacombs. That symbiotic relationship, where electricity is both a tool for photographers and the subject of their pictures, is explored in the exhibition “In Focus: Electric!” on view at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles until August 28. Drawn from the Getty Center’s collection, the show hits on the many ways electricity can express itself on film. Alfred Stieglitz’s 1897 study of the subtle glow of New York streets and Jaromír Funke’s wild collection of neon signs from the 1930s reflect the excitement and novelty of bright lights in the big city. There are photos of shapely electrical switches and sockets and modernist studies of power lines that highlight the new infrastructure that first supplied electricity. And there are images made by scientists and photographers that push at the edges of what can be seen—bodies caught mid-leap by a synchronized flash, or the abstract shape of man-made lightning, caught on film. More recent images reflect electricity’s ubiquity, in a pile of discarded power cords or a photogram made by imprinting an electrified dress on light-sensitive paper. By tracing the visual impact of electricity, the show drives home how nearly invisible it has become to us today.

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