Bridges and Photography

Exhibited and Sold By
Contemporary Works / Vintage Works, Ltd.

258 Inverness Circle
Chalfont, Pennsylvania   18914   USA

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By Matt Damsker

The symbolism of the bridge as a link between here and there, past and present, love and loss, life and death has been one of art's enduring tropes, and photography has made evocative use of bridges throughout its history. Whether as a defining element of landscape or as a closely viewed subject unto itself, the bridge has yielded countless memorable photos by professionals and amateurs, and rare is the family photo scrapbook that doesn't include at least one image of loved ones on or in some relationship to a bridge.

That said, the photos in this exhibition are serious studies all, international in scope and marvelously varied in their depiction of bridges as both architectural icons and particular places that convey sheer physical majesty and the potency of great works. It's no wonder that the ancient bridge at Orthez in the Pyrenees was one of the most photographed landmarks of photography's early days in the mid-1800s, marking the medium as an ideal tool for architectural study and tourist delight. Indeed, nothing is as handy as the presence of a bridge to establish the scale and appeal of a given landscape, and so photography has proved inexhaustible in finding expressive modes for bridge pictures.

Pictorialism, not surprisingly, dominates many bridge images, as they make painterly reference to the bridges of London, Paris and the great steelwork colossi of the United States. Roger Fenton, of course, located many a picturesque medieval arch in his pastoral views of the English landscape in the 1850s, while Italian photographers such as D. Bresolin made shimmering art of the Ponte de Rialto in Venice during the same period.

Robert L. Sleeth, Jr.--The Age of Steel
Robert L. Sleeth, Jr.--The Age of Steel

On one level, bridges have always served nicely, as have railroad tracks, to enhance the illusion of depth in a photo, as photographers will often depict the receding perspective of the span seen, typically, at a three-quarter angle from one side or the other, or at times from underneath. This technique is seen in virtually all eras of bridge photography, and there are many such examples in this exhibit, each of them markedly different in their depiction of atmosphere––from mist-shrouded to brightly sunlit––and the surrounding landscape.

By the time of the 1930s and '40s, as Modernism swept the photographic medium, artists represented here, such as Brett Weston, Otto Steinert, Daniel Masclet and Stanislav Konecny, began to focus closely on elements of bridge architecture, often abstracting the whole in favor of moody, claustrophobic studies of bridgework brick and steel filling the frame with their bulk, regular arches and other compelling architectural and decorative details. New York's bounty of bridges--especially the Manhattan and Brooklyn bridges, with their outsized, New World massings of cable and latticework--are frequent subjects, as are the superb ponts of Paris. In each case different yet archetypal, these bridges impart symbolic magic to their photographs.