21 February-6 March, 2012
Weitz Center for Creativity, Room 226
What is the connection between observing and preserving in words or images? How does the seeing self affect the object seen?
Students in Linda Rossi’s Studio Art 240: Introduction to Film and Digital Photography and in Susan Jaret McKinstry’s English 328: Victorian Poetry collaborated during winter term 2012 to create an intersection between Victorian poetry and photography, culminating in this exhibition.
The Victorian period (approximately 1830-1901) combined rapid cultural change with new verbal and visual forms in which Victorians could represent their world. As they explored science and evolution, refined industries, developed mass education, and redefined social life, Victorians often wrote poetry to express their discoveries and their fears. Particularly interested in visual arts, they fervently explored the new art of photography: in 1839, Daguerre took the first photo of a person, and by mid-century photography was a popular and expensive hobby. Charles Dodgson – a.k.a. Lewis Carroll – was a famous photographer. Victorians were re-imagining life as art, and art as an essential act of life – in the midst of the Industrial Revolution.
This created a central aesthetic debate in the Victorian period: because photography functioned both as scientific technique and as artistic medium, it could document facts of the material world, or represent a particular vision of that world. The main positions in the debate were held by renowned critics John Ruskin and Walter Pater. Ruskin argued for precise, objective observation: “All violent feelings have the same effect. They produce in us a falseness in all our impressions of external things....” In contrast, Pater claimed that one could “see the object as in itself it really is” only through the “power of being deeply moved by the presence of beautiful objects... Not the fruit of experience, but experience itself, is the end.”
The students worked in teams to select lines from a Victorian poem and “illustrate” it with photographs that would demonstrate the poles of the debate by interpreting the poem visually. Each pair of photographs shows the students’ understanding of Ruskin’s “objective” and Pater’s “subjective” aesthetic theory. By showing two visual interpretations of the poem, the students both picture and deconstruct the Victorian debate about art and science.