Elephants marching down the street. A happy motorcyclist posing with his brand new bike. A batter stepping up to the plate, waiting for the pitch. These are just a few of the fleeting moments captured by the click of a camera, moments preserved for posterity on the delicate surface of a photograph. These images and more than one hundred others will highlight the Albany Institute’s extensive photography collections in the exhibition Captured Moments: 170 Years of Photography from the Albany Institute, on view January 28–May 21, 2017.
From the moment the daguerreotype—the first widely available form of photography—was made public in 1839 to the present-day selfie snapped with a smart phone, the medium of photography has been admired for its ability to document a particular moment in time with remarkable veracity. Early photographers spoke of the process as nature drawing itself with the action of the sun since photography uses light to capture images. But whether it’s the sun recording an image through chemical reactions or the algorithms on a nanoscale chip, the photograph has a way of revealing our world that other visual media like paintings and drawings cannot.
The photography collections of the Institute, numbering thousands of images in all photographic processes and forms—daguerreotypes, tintypes, albumen prints, cyanotypes, digital inkjet prints, photo albums, and more—portray a remarkable history of Albany and the surrounding region. They capture moments of national mourning when State Street was draped in black following Abraham Lincoln’s assassination. They reveal the city’s neighborhoods when trolleys ran along Delaware and Clinton Avenues. Other photographs show the region’s artists, politicians, and business leaders at work or home with their families. The paralyzing blizzard of 1888 and the floods of 1936 remain permanently fixed in photographs, even though the snow has long melted and the waters receded. The exhibition includes photographs from far-off Japan, when Robert H. Pruyn was ambassador during Abraham Lincoln’s administration or when Dorothy and Arnold Cogswell were on their honeymoon in 1921. One section of the exhibition reveals the influence that photography played for the Albany artist Walter Launt Palmer. A selection of photographs will be paired with Palmer’s magical snow scenes, European landscapes, and his painting of the Mechanics and Farmer’s Bank building in Albany. The exhibition will even have a selfie station so visitors can capture their own photograph for the future.