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 echoes 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 will be explored in Passages: Photographs from the Collection, an installation on view from June 5 through November 14, 1999, in the Director's Gallery on the ground floor of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Featured will be some 60 works from the Museum's permanent collections representing the full range of photographic techniques and processes from 1840 to the present.
Included will be 19th-century movement studies by Eadweard Muybridge and Etienne Jules Marey, classic combinations of scientific inquiry and aesthetic sensibility; these works are recalled in NASA's large, color image of astronauts venturing through outer space. Photographs by Lewis Hine, Helen Levitt and August Sander, on the other hand, depict ordinary people whose lives are in transition: immigrants, the homeless, and the unemployed. Exquisite, artistic maritime scenes and seascapes taken by Gustave Le Gray or Charles Nègre in the 1850s will be shown alongside lavish travel albums created for tourists and colonial authorities by Felice Beato, Linnaeus Tripe and Francis Frith. By juxtaposing images conceived in vastly different contexts, Passages: Photographs from the Collection explores how photography shapes, and is itself shaped by, our ever-changing perceptions of reality.