PDN Photo of the Day

The History of Animal Photography

Soon after photography was introduced in 1839, artists and practitioners began documenting people and streets, their homes, gardens, and the animal life around them — in short, the things they loved and that stirred scientific and anecdotal wonder. The exhibition “By Hoof, Paw, Wing or Fin: Creatures in Photographs” explores the ways photographers have represented animals from 1845 to 2009. Opening at Hans P. Kraus Jr. Fine Photographs on September 17, the show features birds, butterflies, fish, lions, hippos, and elephants, as they were portrayed by 19th century photographers working with albumen prints, through 20th century masters such as Edward Steichen and contemporary artists such as Adam Fuss.

The earliest photograph in the exhibit, a circa 1845 salt print, shows Jeanie Wilson and Annie Linton contemplating the small collection of fish they’re selling. The women, photographed by Scottish team of D.O. Hill & Robert Adamson, wear matching uniforms of striped dresses, aprons and head kerchiefs.

Reclining goat in Rome, an albumen print from the 1850s, contrasts ancient and 19th century Rome by picturing the animal of the title lounging on stone steps rather than roaming wildly in its natural setting.

Not surprisingly, dogs make a strong appearance in the show. One waits patiently as her owner plays dominos, others stand on pedestals alongside fellow circus performers, and in a photo titled Jakes Dog, Dash, a dog poses with his head down as a photographer makes a tintype of his reclining form.

The advent of zoos in the late 19th century made it possible to photograph unusual and exotic animals in captivity. An image from 1882 shows Jumbo the elephant, a legend in his own right. Born in Sudan, Jumbo traveled to zoos in Germany, France and England before he was purchased by showman P.T. Barnum and brought to the U.S. where he was shown widely.

Edward Steichen’s 1921 toned gelatin silver print Grasshopper and wheat stalk exemplifies the shift in the early 20th century from Pictorialism, with its emphasis on soft focus, to sharp photographs that reexamined familiar subjects directly and with clearly defined details.

By Hoof, Paw, Wing or Fin: Creatures in Photographs
Hans P. Kraus Jr. Fine Photographs
September 17 – November 15, 2019

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