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Inside Master Printmakers’ Archive

In 1981, the year after Photo District News published its first issue in New York City’s Photo District, artist Gary Schneider and his partner, John Erdman, opened a lab in the same neighborhood. Schneider/Erdman Inc. quickly became the city’s premier black-and-white lab, attracting business from Peter Hujar, Gilles Peress, Louise Dahl-Wolfe, Mary Ellen Mark, David Wojnarowicz, Nan Goldin and other fine-art, fashion and documentary photographers. The lab had a practice of retaining one artist’s proof from each edition they printed. Harvard Art Museums acquired the Schneider/Erdman collection of close to 450 artist’s proofs, and in 2017, Schneider and Erdman gave the Museums its collection of notes, test prints, negatives and glass plates. Those materials are part of a new exhibition, organized by Jennifer Quick, associate research curator in photography, at Harvard’s three research and study galleries.

“Analog Culture: Printer’s Proofs from the Schneider/Erdman Photography Lab, 1981-2001” features approximately 90 images by Hujar, Goldin, Lorna Simpson, Louis Faurer, Brian Lanker, James Casebere and other photographers and artists. A photographer himself, Schneider didn’t apply the same methods to every print. He often spoke philosophically about opening a canister of film and unlocking the mystery inside, and using the darkroom to “catalyze the vision” of his customers. The archival material in the show offers insight into the collaboration between printer and artist, and the decisions they made together about paper selection, toning and exposure appropriate to each photograph.

More than a study of darkroom and photography techniques, “Analog Culture” also records a momentous period in American culture. Debates over whether or not photography was an art form were over, and photographic prints had become valuable collectibles in New York City’s burgeoning gallery market. Photos in the exhibition reflect how artists responded to New York City’s economic and social transformation, its lively downtown arts scene, the AIDS epidemic and the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. As Deborah Martin Kao, Harvard’s former chief curator, said when the museums acquired the Schneider/Erdman archive, “This is quite literally about preserving a time in history.”

—Holly Stuart Hughes 

“Analog Culture: Printer’s Proofs from the Schneider/Erdman Photography Lab, 1981-2001”
University Galleries, Harvard Art Museums
Through August 12, 2018

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