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The Overlooked Legacy of Oscar Rejlander, Who Elevated Photography to an Art

An exhibition at the Getty Center serves to rectify a century of oversight by highlighting Rejlander’s many innovations.

Oscar Gustave Rejlander, “The Infant Photography Giving the Painter an Additional Brush” (about 1856), albumen silver print (the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles)
Oscar Gustave Rejlander, “The Infant Photography Giving the Painter an Additional Brush” (about 1856), albumen silver print (the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles)

LOS ANGELES — Fifteen years after Oscar Rejlander’s death in 1875, fellow British photographer Peter Henry Emerson mockingly credited Rejlander with developing the “wrong-headed method” of combination printing. He called for Rejlander’s “manipulative and overly theatrical” process — which involved printing from numerous negatives to create one photograph — to be abandoned. The exhibition Oscar Rejlander: Artist Photographer, which recently traveled to the Getty Center from the National Gallery of Canada, serves to rectify the century of oversight initiated by critics like Emerson. Assembling over 140 works, it covers each phase of Rejlander’s career, from portraitist, to combination printer, to scientific illustrator.

Oscar Gustave Rejlander, “The First Negative” (1857), albumen silver print (Musée d’Orsay, Paris Photo © RMN-Grand Palais / Art Resource, NY / Patrice Schmidt)
Oscar Gustave Rejlander, “The First Negative” (1857), albumen silver print (Musée d’Orsay, Paris Photo © RMN-Grand Palais / Art Resource, NY / Patrice Schmidt)

This unprecedented retrospective positions Rejlander as a showman whose romantic and professional partnership with pantomime actress Mary Bull yielded several thriving commercial studios. After emigrating from Sweden to England in 1839 and taking up photography in 1852, he became one of the first to recognize photography’s potential as a “handmaid of art” — exemplified by early photographs like “The Infant Photography Giving the Painter an Additional Brush.” This tiny print served to demonstrate how photography could preserve an allegorical scene for a painter’s extended study. It also functioned as a self-portrait and hinted at Rejlander’s hidden ambitions: reflected in the convex mirror, he presents himself as a modern-day Jan van Eyck.

Read on HERE >>> Source: Hyperallergic The Overlooked Legacy of Oscar Rejlander, Who Elevated Photography to an Art

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