Yea my Roman numerals were a little rusty too. It's 1839, a sort of composite year for the birth of photography--three pioneers, William Henry Fox Talbot, Nicéphore Niépce, and Louis Daguerre, all working simultaneously but independantly to "fix an image" using different methodologies. This was the timeline:
1826 Nicéphore Niépce makes the earliest known extant photograph of the view from his studio window at Le Gras, his estate in Chalon-sur-Saône, France
1835 William Henry Fox Talbot makes the first surviving photographic negative of a latticed window at Lacock Abbey, his estate in southern England.
1837-1838 Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre makes first successful photographs including a view from his window in Paris of the Boulevard du Temple, which is believed to be the first photograph of a human being.
1839 Daguerre reveals his process to the French Government and the discovery of a method to fix images was publically announced for the first time in the Gazette de France.
MDCCCXXXIX was the title of Lisa McCarty's MFA thesis exhibition in the Duke MFAEDA program and shown here at Cassilhaus. Lisa is a pioneer herself. She was in the inaugural class of Duke's new Masters in Experimental and Documentary Arts. She was the first to propose mounting her thesis show outside of the Duke campus and defended her thesis before her whole committee right here in the gallery. Her practice includes making pilgrimages to the birthplaces of photography and indeed included trips to the homes and studios of the three pioneers mentioned above in England and France where she shot extensively and tried to reconnect to those formative photographic experiences. She talks more about the project:
MDCCCXXXIX (1839) is a narrative of how photography came about, and how it continues to evolve. In Latent Image: The Discovery of Photography, curator and historian Beaumont Newhall states, “Photography has no single inventor. At the same time, distantly removed from one another, experimenters were working on the same problem unaware of each others work until, in January of 1839, an announcement was made in Paris by the Academie des Sciences of the success of one of them.”
Though the 1839 announcement publicly illuminated the discovery of the method to fix images, experiments to this end have been documented as early as 1802 and have never ceased. Consequently, 1839 is both a fixed date and an idea. It signifies the moment photography was born, though this is a moment that repeats with every generation of imagemakers. With the emergence of every new method for fixing images the medium is reborn, persisting much like a phoenix, cyclically regenerating from its own ashes. Therefore, one could say it is the project of every photographer to reinvent the medium whether by technical, formal, and/or conceptual means.
MDCCCXXXIX is an account of one such project. My particular experiments have involved pilgrimages to document sites where Fox Talbot, Daguerre, and Niépce worked, reading and generating facsimiles of their instructions for building cameras and fixing images, and finally the creation and systematic testing of my own cameras. Through this process I have discovered photography yet again, and have the pleasure of rediscovering it each and every time I make an image.
And so, still distantly removed from one another across geographic and temporal expanses, the cycle endures. Experimenters are still working on the same problem and MDCCCXXXIX continues to unfold.
The bulk of the images in the show were taken with self-made pinhole cameras of her own design. Common to each design was a 4"x5" film holder.
Startlingly unique and beautiful images. Most are long exposures where chance and experimentation play a huge role. Lisa trys to put herself in the shoes of the early pioneers who were in uncharted territory and developing their process as they made images.
Lisa constructed a scale model of the entire gallery with to-scale images to work out all of the placements and juxtapositions in advance.
Her invitation image was this striking dual aperture image of a hurricane lamp. She is still not exactly sure what happened during the exposure put posits that a piece of gaffer tape inside the camera came loose and covered part of the film plane. The intensity of the filament in the lamp was still strong enough to be seen through the tape.
My favorite piece in the show was 9:00-9:03 (lace) in which she wrapped one of her cameras in lace and pointed it toward the sky. We have added this piece to our collection.
This exhibition was in addition to a formidable written thesis which hopefully will be turned into a book. We are honored to have hosted Lisa's exhibition here and incredibly proud of the work she did to earn her MFA. Thanks Lisa!