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The Quiet Landscapes of William B. Post

June 3 - August 27, 2006


William B. Post (1857-1921) of Fryeburg, Maine, was an influential member of the Photo-Secession, the group that first championed art photography in the United States at the turn of the 20th century. A colleague of Alfred Stieglitz, Post was active from the mid-1880s through the 1910s, producing intimate platinum prints described by Christian A. Peterson, a leading scholar of pictorial photography in America as "subtle, poetic, and delicately understated." Peterson, Associate Curator at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, has organized the first show in a century dedicated to Post's pictures. It features 59 vintage prints and 10 glass plate lantern slides focusing on the quiet pleasures of rural life in Maine. (right: William B. Post, Untitled , c. 1900, platinum print, 7 9/16 x 9 1/2 inches, The Minneapolis Institute of Arts, McCling Photography Purchase Fund. )

Post frequently captured the seasonal changes to the Maine landscape in his sensitively printed photographs such as Intervale, Winter of 1899. The most widely exhibited photograph during his lifetime, this image also appeared as a photogravure in Stieglitz's famous magazine Camera Work. The high horizon line, the expanse of snow in the foreground, and the limited tonal ranges of the trees suggest his creative ability to invent new compositions and poetic harmonies influenced by Japanese art. His use of a narrow, vertical format and choice of floral subjects in other pictures also relates to Asian scroll paintings.

Like many painters, photographers, and designers of his day, Post absorbed the craze for Japonisme after a trip to Japan in 1891. He began showing his photographic work in New York the following year, and in 1893 he showed the young Stieglitz how to use a hand-held camera. Post became a founding member of the New York Camera Club in 1896 and two years later gave up his seat on the New York Stock Exchange and moved to Fryeburg to concentrate solely on his photographic work.

In the first decade of this century, Post's photographs were widely admired by other pictorial photographers, especially members of the Portland Camera Club, which gave him a solo exhibition and made him an honorary member in 1904. Later in 1912, they also exhibited his collection of art photographs in the new galleries of the Portland Society of Art in the L. D. M. Sweat Memorial. The Quiet Landscapes of William B. Post will be accompanied by a selection of work by other Maine pictorialists from the Museum's collection including photographs by Alfred Brinkler, Chansonetta Emmons, and Francis Libby. Pictorialist photographers saw themselves as part of the art world and the medium of photography as a new creative force. They sought to achieve atmospheric effects with soft focus lenses, the use of platinum and other tonal printing processes, and the choice of landscape subjects shrouded in mist or veiled in the muted light of dawn or dusk. Its popularity, spread by amateur camera clubs, reached its creative zenith in the early 20th century, and William B. Post was one its best practioners.

The exhibition, on view from June 3 through August 27, is accompanied by an illustrated catalogue, available at the Museum Store .

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