Oscar G. Rejlander, Mary Constable and Her Brother (detail), 1866, albumen silver print, 16.8 x 22.1 cm. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Gilman Collection, Purchase, Harriette and Noel Levine Gift, 2005 (2005.100.24), Photo © The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Image source: Art Resource, NY

Explore early art photography through the work of the man who invented the genre.

Known to posterity as the father of art photography, Oscar Rejlander remains one of the medium’s unsung heroes. Although he collaborated with Charles Darwin, and influenced the work of both Julia Margaret Cameron and Lewis Carroll, this groundbreaking exhibition is the first major Rejlander retrospective ever produced.

Exploring Rejlander’s career as painter, photographer and experimental artist, the exhibition features some 140 works by Rejlander, from landscapes and portraits to allegories and witty commentaries on contemporary society.

Celebrating a man ahead of his time, Oscar G. Rejlander: Artist Photographer not only examines his artistic legacy, but also his ability to transform a technical medium into an important means of artistic expression.

Oscar G. Rejlander: Artist Photographer has been organized by the Canadian Photography Institute of the National Gallery of Canada.

Exhibition

Oscar G. Rejlander: Artist Photographer
Friday, October 19, 2018 to Sunday, February 3, 2019

Location

National Gallery of Canada
Canadian Photography Institute Galleries
380 Sussex Drive
Ottawa, ON K1N 9N4
Canada

On Tour
March 12 – June 9, 2019
J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

For many, Rejlander was regarded as something of an aberration, whose only contribution to the medium was an overly complicated and slightly risqué Victorian morality tale. Perhaps now, with time, we can see his contribution to the history of photography more clearly. Perhaps Rejlander, ever the joker, will have the last laugh.

– Lori Pauli, Curator of Photographs

Artwork

I am now rich in photographs for I have found in London, Rejlander, who for years has had a passion for photographing all sorts of chance expressions exhibited on various occasions, especially by children, and taken instantaneously.

– Letter from Charles Darwin to James Crichton-Browne, April 7, 1871, Darwin Papers, Cambridge University Library

Did You Know?

The father of art photography is, in many respects, also the father of Photoshop. His carefully composited images were built up in multiple layers — in Rejlander’s case, a complex process involving glass wet-plate collodion negatives — combining different images in a way that is similar to how Photoshop artists work today. Here are five more things to know about Rejlander’s work and influence.

The exhibition offers a rare look at some of Rejlander’s paintings, drawings and lithographs, reflecting his original career as a painter and portrait miniaturist. It wasn’t until the 1850s that he abandoned painting for photography, after marvelling at how well a photograph had captured the fold in a sleeve.

He experimented with albumen silver prints, carbon prints, and salted paper prints, all on view in the exhibition.

Although Rejlander did not invent combination printing — a process in which two more or more negatives are layered to produce a single image — he created more elaborate and more convincing composite photographs than any photographer before him.

Some of the genre painters of the late Victorian period, including Lawrence Alma-Tadema, purchased Rejlander’s photographs to use as drawing aids.

In 1863, Rejlander visited her on the Isle of Wight. In addition to teaching her photography, he is also credited with helping to shape her vision.

Oscar G. Rejlander,  Self-portrait with Parrot, c. 1865, albumen silver print; album closed: 37.4 × 27.6 × 0.32 cm; album open: 37.4 × 52 × 15 cm. Sir Nicholas Mander Collection

Featured Video

Oscar Gustav Rejlander is best known for his work Two Ways of Life, a masterpiece for which he used over 32 different negatives. Learn more with Lori Pauli, Curator of Photographs.

Rejlander's Two Ways of Life - Part 1

 

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Oscar G. Rejlander: Artist Photographer

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