Diemar/Noble Photography is presenting a celebration of the first 100 years of photography in France. Behind the somewhat belittling title, "Some Photographs taken in France", which would perhaps indicate forgotten holiday snaps, hides an extraordinary group of photographs. These vintage photographs in a wide range of media include daguerreotypes, salt, prints, albumen prints, wax paper negatives, glass stereos and silver gelatin prints, displaying the technical developments of medium's history.
This exhibition is not an academic survey. The works have been carefully chosen from the point of view of a collector, focusing on the finest and rarest prints--prints that nobody knew even existed, the intriguing snapshot and the curiosity.
Thematically, the exhibition features a wide range of genres from art photography, portraiture, still life, reportage, social documentary, scientific photography as well as amateur snapshots. Amongst the latter there are a unique group of seven photographs of Captain Dreyfus relating to the Dreyfus Affair, which split France in two and which continues to reverberate even today.
The images were taken in June 1899 by a sailor on board the Sfax that returned Dreyfus from Devil's Island to France to face a retrial for high treason. Also on show is a portrait of Emile Zola, whose open letter J'Accuse in the newspaper Aurore broke the scandal.
Also on display will be what probably constitutes the first photographs of a celebrity behaving badly, predating the likes of Paris Hilton, Charlie Scheen and Lindsay Lohan by over a hundred years. A set of four extraordinary photographs of artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec defecating on the beach at Le Crotoy, Picardie, taken by his friend, the art dealer Maurice Joyant.
The exhibition begins with the early masters of photography. Included in this selection is a stunning marine picture of the French Fleet at Cherbourg by Gustave Le Gray who set the standard for art photography in the 1850s.
On view is also a rare oversized waxed paper negative by Dominique Roman of the Roman theater in Arles. Waxed paper negatives would often be exhibited in salons at the time as objects of beauty in their own right.
Also included is work by Eugène Atget, who vehemently opposed the changes happening to his beloved old Paris and made it his life's work to document it before it vanished under new town planning by the then city planner Haussmann. Durandelle's documentation of the construction of the Paris Opera is also featured in the exhibition. Here we see the old and the new meet.
Not all the photographers in the exhibition are French. Between the wars, Paris was a magnet for photographers from the rest of Europe as well the USA, attracted by the art scene, the publishing industry and highly successful picture magazines, such as Vu and Photographie. Several émigrés are included in the exhibition, among them Erwin Blumenfeld, Geza Vandor and Man Ray.
The exhibition features several examples of how Modernist and Surrealist photographers would stretch the medium's possibilities through experimentation. One such image titled "Young Girl Dreaming" by Brassaï, was the result of the photographer scratching a drawing on a glass plate negative of one his nude studies, then reprinting the photograph from the defaced negative.
Another great example of experimentation featured is Jean Dreville's "Synthese Cinegraphique" that was achieved by printing two negatives on top of one another.
Also, Raoul Ubac's "The Battle of The Amazons" displays a cacophony of fragmented nudes through a complex process of combination printing and solarisations.
Jacques Henri-Lartigue, perhaps photography's only true child prodigy is represented with a beautiful blue-toned still life showing his and his lover Renée Perle's hands.
There are also several images by anonymous photographers, including a set of nine pornographic images from the mid 1920's, taking on a Surreal air due to the masked participants. The resemblance to Germaine Krull's similar sexual series is almost shocking.
Scientific photography from the 19th century has long been a strong area of interest to collectors, particularly in France. "Some Photographs taken in France" features several outstanding examples of scientific photography, including three x-rays of animals by Charles Infroit and a rare movement study by Étienne Jules Marey.
With such a vast variety of images on display there is something here for burgeoning and experienced collectors alike, with prices ranging from a mere £100 to $250,000.
The exhibition is at Diemar/Noble Photography, which is located at 66/67 Wells Street, London W1P 3PY, UK; telephone + 44 (0)207 636 5375. The exhibition has opened and runs through July 16, 2011. Gallery hours are 11- 6, Tuesday through Saturday.