The incredible collection of photographs in the exhibition Live and Life Will Give You Pictures: Masterworks of French Photography, 1890–1950 embodies the words of Henri Cartier-Bresson by giving us a glimpse into the lives of the photographers’ subjects. They represent this exciting and tumultuous time in the early 20th century. The photos connect through an exchange of gazes between subject and observer.
The quote is also reminiscent of the philosophy of Albert Barnes’s longtime friend, the philosopher and psychologist John Dewey, who advocated for “the primacy of learning through lived experience”—a concept Barnes upheld in his educational foundation. Barnes Executive Director and President Thom Collins explains that “this exhibition provides a fascinating counterpoint to the core holdings of the Barnes collection.” Organized into eight themes (Paris and Environs, Street Life, Labor, Leisure, Commerce, Celebrity, Reportage, and Art for Art’s Sake), the photographs provide insight into the society in which many artists represented in the collection produced their works, sharing aesthetic and modern influences. Bearing this in mind, a second visit to the collection can hold more discoveries and new meaning. Some examples are the photo of Picasso’s studio with his dog, Kazbeck (Brassaï, 1944), and Picasso at Home, rue des Grands Augustins, Paris (Cartier-Bresson, 1944). These images are a window to the artist and creative process behind the fame.
It’s difficult to choose a single favorite image, but I particularly like Ilse Bing’s fashion photographs for magazines like Harper’s Bazaar. The exhibition experience I’ve enjoyed most is seeing people’s reactions to their favorite photos. We did this through our social media takeovers on Instagram, where selected veteran photojournalists and known Philadelphia Instagrammers were invited to share their favorites.Though people have different insights, it’s always amazing how looking at these photos gives us the chance to relate our contemporary ideas to another time when people experienced rapid development in technology and the arts.
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Image 1: Live and Life Will Give You Pictures: Masterworks of French Photography, 1890-1950. Installation photos, 2016. Photos by Rick Echelmeyer. © The Barnes Foundation.
Image 2: Ilse Bing (American, born Germany, 1899 or 1900–1998). Button-Down Coat for “Harper’s Bazaar”, 1934. Gelatin silver print. Collection of Michael Mattis and Judy Hochberg.© Estate of Ilse Bing. ⠀⠀