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Passage is an evocative word with varied meanings, at least three of which relate directly to photographic practice. As a synonym for "quotation" or "excerpt," it refers to the cropping and editing integral to photographic creation. When referring to movement or transition, as in "a passage overseas," the term describes a frequent subject—exemplified in photographs such as The Steerage (1907) by Alfred Stieglitz—and an ongoing romance with travel that spurred the growth of photography and continues to drive a market for images of distant locales. Finally, as reminders of mortality and disappearance, phrases such as "the passage of time" suggest the photographic process itself, which transforms present moments into mementos of the past.
These divergent meanings are explored in Passages: Photographs from the Collection, which features some sixty works from the Museum's permanent collections representing the full range of photographic techniques and processes from 1840 to the present. Included will be nineteenth-century movement studies by Eadweard Muybridge and Etienne Jules Marey; these works will be echoed in NASA's large, color images of astronauts venturing through outer space. Photographs by Lewis Hine, Helen Levitt and August Sander depict ordinary people whose lives are in transition: immigrants, the homeless, and the unemployed. Exquisite, artistic maritime scenes and seascapes by Gustave Le Gray or Charles Ngre in the 1850s bear a historical relation to lavish travel albums created for tourists and colonial authorities by Felice Beato, John Thomson and Francis Frith.