Developing Greatness: The Origins of American Photography, 1839-1885

Developing Greatness: The Origins of American Photography, 1839–1885

June 9, 2007—December 30, 2007

A groundbreaking exploration of the first generation of American photography. The exhibition presents classic works from this pivotal era, as well as many newly discovered images that have never before been exhibited or published.

Organized by The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art and culled entirely from its recently acquired Hallmark Photographic Collection, the exhibition features almost 300 works, from one of the earliest known daguerreotypes to one of the first hand-camera “snapshots.” Important sections of the exhibition are devoted to the Civil War, Western landscapes and portraits of the era’s leading personalities. 

Organized chronologically into two main areas of focus, daguerreotypes and paper photography, and then further subdivided into major themes, the exhibition offers a new perspective on a period of great expansion and enterprise in American history. Photography was the “cutting-edge” imaging technology of the day, a radical new means to both record and “invent” the world. Photographers responded accordingly: Many were dedicated documentarians, while others explored the medium’s expressive and creative possibilities. Together both approaches fashioned an endlessly rich collective image of both the facts and the spirit of the age.

Daguerreotypes: Professional Practice/Major Makers
Daguerreotypes: Portrait Variations
Paper Photography: Civil War
Paper Photography: Landscape/Cityscape
Paper Photography: American Scene


This exhibition is supported by the Hall Family Foundation.  Additional funding has been provided by the Campbell-Calvin Fund and Elizabeth C. Bonner Charitable Trust for exhibitions. Midwest Airlines is the official airline sponsor.

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