Student Review: The Art of Science SFMOMA’s “Brought to Light”

picture-3The Art of Science
By: Katrina Pagaduan

That was absolutely brilliant.

Those four words were the first thing I heard from my friend as we left the Brought to Light: Photography and the Invisible, 1840-1900 exhibition at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.  We were completely blown away by the outlandish x-rays of clothed body parts and the slightly ominous spirit photography that look uncannily real.

But let me back up here.

From October 11 to January 4, SFMOMA is featuring an enchanting show documenting the birth of photography before it was even considered an art form. The development of the camera coincided with rapidly growing scientific interests and it helped scientists look further and closer in their research. The exhibition features an array of photographs that scientists took to see up close what is not seen in the naked eye. The show is organized neatly into categories of scientific photography that included the first images of the moon to pseudo-scientific prints like spirit photography and magnetism.

Edward L. Allen and Frank Rowel welcome us with images of the moon taken in the 1880s. Eadweard Muybridge’s famous Bouquet With Rider takes us through the exhibition as we enter a room dedicated to documenting motion and camera angles. We walked into my favorite part and the strongest portion of the exhibition: electrograms and photograms that were produced by sparking positive and negative electrical poles directly onto photographic paper to see what would come out of it. The flashes of light created images that look like underwater plant life or feelers of an ant. Finally, we ended at a room that featured x-ray photos of the human body (with clothing and accessories on) alongside a wall of spirit photography.

This exhibition portrays the exciting evolution of photography and its bond with science. It features pictures from the birth of photography; before fashion, landscape and portraits. The show documents the curiosity that prompts and challenges us to look at something from a different perspective.  It seems that even after 150 years, photographers and scientists alike still have much to discover.

Katrina Pagaduan is a Photography Student at City College of San Francisco. She visited the SFMOMA as part of a field trip with her PHOTO51 class. Thank you to Erin O’Toole, Associate Curator of Photography for the informative tour.

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