Everson features SU sociologist’s work on Adirondack photographer
Everson features SU sociologist’s work on Adirondack photographerSeptember 08, 2003Matthew R. Snydermrsnyder@syr.edu
With a Sept. 19 opening lecture and book signing, Syracuse University’s Robert M. Bogdan will launch the Everson Museum of Art’s “Adirondack Vernacular: The Photography of Henry M. Beach,” an exhibition based on Bogdan’s book of the same title.The book is published by Syracuse University Press.Bogdan, Distinguished Professor of sociology and cultural foundations of education, will speak in the museum’s Hosmer Auditorium starting at 5:30 p.m. on the social significance and art value of Beach’s work in photographic postcards. The Everson will also host a reception from 6-8 p.m. at the museum, located at 410 Harrison St. The events are open to the public; the reception is free to Everson members and $10 for non-members.
Beach (1863-1943) was one of the most prolific but least-known photographers of his time. He devoted his entire career to postcard photography, documenting Adirondack life and culture during a time of unprecedented change. Armed with a camera, Beach witnessed the rise of the automobile and the fall of the horse and buggy, the prosperity of the Great Camps and the struggle of family hotels, and an explosion in tourism that brought modern challenges to a previously untamed wilderness.
Beach was a self-taught photographer well known in the Adirondack community for his postcards, which were quite popular among tourists as well as locals throughout the 1910s and 1920s. As an “insider” to the people and places he photographed, Beach skillfully portrayed his subjects in a vernacular style: an outsider could not appreciate them without understanding the culture and context in which they were taken. He specialized in Adirondack scenic views, photomontage advertisements, and “freak cards” composed of exaggerated images combined for humorous effect: a favorite was the local fisherman struggling with a catch three times his size.
In this exhibition, some of Beach’s best photographs, which in many cases no longer exist in original postcard format, have been reproduced from his original glass-plate negatives. The modern reprints emphasize the aesthetic qualities of Beach’s photography-a secondary consideration to quantity in postcard production-and clarify visual details that provide added insight into Beach’s subjects, his surroundings, and his humor. In addition to more than five thousand postcard images, Henry Beach produced an interesting array of oversized panoramic images depicting grand landscapes, Great Camps, community gatherings, and the ever-popular group portraits.
The Everson exhibit, based on Bogdan’s book, presents the work of this important and relatively unknown photographer in the museum environment for the first time. Viewers are encouraged to consider postcard images beyond their ephemeral nature and question their significance on multiple levels: as a passing trend in American popular culture as well as a valid art form with social, historical, and aesthetic merit.
Several related events will be held before and during the exhibition, which runs through Feb. 22. These include a Sept. 13 “Postcard Party” at the Barnes & Noble in DeWitt; an Oct. 1 Fall Teacher Workshop and lecture at the Everson; and an Nov. 12 lecture at the Everson by David Tatham, SU professor emeritus of American art. For more information, call the Everson at 474-6064.
DebRyan, Everson curator, contributed to this article.