See the Light—Photography, Perception, Cognition: The Marjorie and Leonard Vernon Collection
Los Angeles residents Marjorie and Leonard Vernon began to collect photography in 1975, eventually building a collection of some 3,600 photographs spanning the entire history of the medium. In 2008 LACMA acquired the complete collection, making it possible for the museum to represent photography’s full range and its centrality in modern visual culture. This exhibition of 220 photographs from the Vernon Collection takes a historical perspective, identifying parallels between photography and vision science over time. The earliest commentaries on photography, published at the moment of its invention in the late 1830s, positioned the medium between art and science. As a scientific instrument, the camera operates as an infallible eye, augmenting physiological vision; as an artistic tool, it channels the imagination, recording creative vision. Much of photography’s authority and fascination resides in its interdisciplinary grounding. Whether we analyze it as a science or admire it as an art, photography’s power may never be fully explained, but it will always offer revelations about vision, perception, and cognition.
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This exhibition was organized by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and made possible by a generous gift from Fredric Roberts, with additional support from the Annenberg Foundation.
Image: György Kepes, Balance, 1942, Gelatin Silver Print, The Marjorie and Leonard Vernon Collection, gift of The Annenberg Foundation, acquired from Carol Vernon and Robert Turbin, © The György Kepes Estate.
Remembering LACMA’s photography holdings before the acquisition of the Vernon Collection in 2008, former Photography Department head and curator Charlotte Cotton remarked, “when you went on to the museum database and searched for photographs from the 19th century, you could come up with, like, one picture . . . this was not a historical collection.” While LACMA did own more than one photograph from the era, Cotton was correct in essence. The acquisition of the Vernon Collection nearly tripled LACMA’s holdings in 19th-century photography, bringing works into the collection that would have been otherwise impossible to acquire (due to scarcity or price) by any other means…
One of the first things I noticed upon entering the exhibition See the Light—Photography, Perception, Cognition: The Marjorie and Leonard Vernon Collection is the numerous quadrants of photographs arranged on the first wall. The four photographs in each grouping represent the four themes covered in the exhibition: descriptive naturalism, subjective naturalism, experimental modernism, and romantic modernism…