TRANSIT AND MONUMENT
To mark the 180th birthday of photography, WestLicht travels back to the early days of the medium and celebrates the Franco-German pioneer Édouard Baldus (1813-1889), a key figure of 19th century photography.
To call Baldus just a photographer is inadequate. He was a painter, a businessman, an inventor and a publisher - sometimes all of these things at once. This multiplicity of roles was typical for the dawn of photography, an era in which roles, techniques and procedures were still being defined, and the field belonged to the explorers. At the same time, his biography is a particularly dazzling example of a photographic rise to stardom, in which the protagonist ascends from the role of forger sought by the police to that of successful entrepreneur and Knight of the French Legion of Honour.
The exhibition offers a view on Baldus' brilliant work Chemins de fer de Paris à Lyon et à la Méditerranée, created between 1861 and 1863 on behalf of the southern French railway company of the same name. The album is one of the most important historical photography books; worldwide, only eight complete copies with 69 plates are known to have survived. The large-format prints were one of Baldus’ specialties, much admired by his contemporaries. They follow the railway line - only completed in the 1850s - from Lyon to the Mediterranean. His images juxtapose the modern transportation architecture of tracks, bridges and train stations with the landmarks of the French Middle Ages and the ancient monuments of the Roman Empire - a politically-motivated analogy that celebrates the empire of Napoleon III and its spirit of progress, embedding it in a historical tradition.
Without directly addressing the notion of travel or the railway as a means of transport, the project represents a leitmotif in the photographer's oeuvre: the tension between landscape and construction. Baldus' clear style has been called, among other things, the birth of modern perception. In the artistic position of his imagery and in the structure of his albums, Baldus is said to have anticipated serial concepts of the likes of August Sander or Bernd and Hilla Becher respectively by a half and a full century.
This exhibition shows a selection of 60 prints from the album owned by OstLicht Collection, Vienna. The photographs, taken by Baldus between 1853 and the early 1860s, are albumin prints from paper and glass negatives. Curated by Anna Auer
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