While it might be easier today to capture an impressive photo on your smart phone, it's good to acknowledge that photography a century ago was produced through complex, time-consuming processes using different lenses, chemicals and printing techniques. The current exhibit at Neue Galerie, “Heinrich Kuehn and His American Circle: Alfred Stieglitz and Edward Steichen,” celebrates this era of photography by showcasing the prolific work of Austrian-born Heinrich Kuehn and his influential friendship with American photographers Alfred Stiegltiz and Edward Steichen.
Kuehn (1866-1944) was one of the early pioneers of modern photography. He found his artistic niche while using microphotography techniques during his studies in bacteriology while living in Berlin. After falling into a large inheritance, Kuehn became a full-time photographer who experimented with optical and chemical processes that brought him to the forefront of the pictorialist movement. Kuehn used his science-inspired printing methods to create soft, dreamy images that appeared more like Impressionist paintings than photographs. From platinum printing to gum biochromate pastes, Kuehn depicted family portraits and picturesque plein air studies in sepia tones and through hand-tinted colors. As color photography progressed, however, we're sorry to say that Kuehn and his American counterparts eventually left their dreamlike images behind.
Many of the photographs on view at Neue Galerie are of members of Kuehn's family, including two of his daughters (Lotte and Edeltrude), their nurse Mary Warner and his wife Anna, who died at an early age. Others are hazy stills and landscapes, which are a far cry from the microbes and bacteria that inspired the photographer in his early years. The variety of images on display show this gifted photographer's range of skill and focus, not to mention the stunning wonder that is autochrome printing.
“Heinrich Kuehn and His American Circle: Alfred Stieglitz and Edward Steichen" is on view at Neue Galerie in New York until August 27, 2012.
Tell us what you think of Kuehn's autochrome magic in the comments below.