Phillip Prodger

prodger@quahog.org

Reviews:  Darwin's CameraTime Stands StillHoppé's AmerikaImpressionist CameraExpression of the Emotions Inscribing Science


Darwin's Camera

"Prodger narrates a fascinating exposition of the dawn of scientific photography." Steven Pinker, author of How the Mind Works


"Once again Phillip Prodger has explored photography’s childhood and found there a network of hitherto unexamined meanings and connections that enrich our knowledge not only of the medium but of science, technology, and culture at large. Darwin’s Camera rethinks both the father of evolutionary theory and the evolution of the medium Darwin adapted to his needs. Fascinating, lucid, and beautifully researched, the book is a major contribution to the history of photography." Rebecca Solnit, author of River of Shadows: Eadweard Muybridge and the Technological Wild West


"In this lucid, nuanced account, Prodger introduces visual and literary documents with archaeological precision to unearth Darwin’s groundbreaking use of photography in his work." Julian Cox, Chief Curator, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco


"This illuminating book full of amazing insights into Darwin and the development and use of photography, is clearly written with engaging charm. Not just for the specialist, it will engage anyone concerned with history, photography, science in general and Darwin in particular, and the use of illustration in book production." Paul Ekman, co-author (with Dalai Lama) of Emotional Awareness


"This is a scholarly and entertaining account of how Darwin not only changed the face of science, but also played a surprising role in shaping the visual culture of his time." Martin Barnes, Senior Curator of Photographs, Victoria and Albert Museum


"Prodger elegantly interweaves two complex narratives. Replete with a multitude of telling anecdotes, Darwin’s Camera is an important contribution both to the history of science and to the history of photography." Bernard Barryte, Curator of European Art, Stanford University



Time Stands Still

“Time Stands Still captures nineteenth-century experimentation with art, science, and technology without overloading the viewer. Impressive and comprehensive, this exhibition introduces rare, extraordinary material to the public and effectively conveys that Muybridge's revolutionary accomplishments were the fulfillment of a goal sought by an international array of innovative photographers.” Leonardo

“Prodger makes an excellent selection of photographs, from the first known ‘snapshot’ of two women in a window to Muybridge's own famous studies of horse gaits. It is amazing to read about the fierce debates over what constituted an ‘instant photograph,’ bringing home how much we take for granted today with our unobtrusive split-second cameras. Muybridge himself remains a mysterious figure, a center of continuing controversy and tall tales, much of it due to the murder of his wife's lover. However, his technological achievements often overshadowed his aesthetic innovations — it is this oversight that this volume seeks to remedy, by definitively repositioning Muybridge's work within the history of photography and of art itself.” Publishers Weekly

“Linking the interest in speedy vision to the Romantics' faith in spontaneity, Prodger also suggests that photography accelerated the shift from Romantic to Victorian sensibility, as the camera shifted the meaning of ‘instantaneity’ from virtuosity in artistic execution toward mechanical objectivity. Nineteenth century photographers and critics continually debated the meaning of ‘instantaneous,’ Prodger points out. It meant more than an arbitrarily small interval of time. Uses of ‘instantaneous’ varied with the photographer's subject matter. ‘A still life taken with an extremely rapid exposure was not said to be instantaneous,’ Prodger writes in the show's indispensable catalog. Today nothing visible seems beyond the camera's reach. The long climb to that high cultural plateau has seldom been better illustrated than in Time Stands Still.” San Francisco Chronicle

“In addition to a generous selection of Muybridge's motion studies with horses and other animals (goats, birds, dogs), and people (acrobats, gymnasts, a man turning an orange in his hand), Time Stands Still also includes several of Muybridge's zoopraxiscope discs and a reconstruction of his projection mechanism that the viewer can hand crank to create a shadowy gallop across a darkened wall. The works of some of Muybridge's less-famous contemporaries contain aesthetic pleasures of their own. Particularly beautiful is Ottomar Anschütz's 1884 nine-image sequence of storks landing at their nest. The exhibit comes with a excellent book/catalog by guest curator Phillip Prodger…” San Francisco Metro

Charles Breese

“The show offers many rarely seen attempts to capture motion, some employing techniques now lost to time. But until Stanford hired Muybridge, truly stopping evanescent action was thought to be beyond the technology of the day. Prodger, in fact, caused a stir a while back with assertions that Muybridge edited some of the motion studies for aesthetic reasons. The show includes several cyanotypes, a variant of the blueprint process that yields lovely images, demonstrating that Muybridge selected certain images from a series on flying birds for publication.” San Jose Mercury News

“The breadth of Muybridge's life and achievements is superbly documented in this catalogue, which accompanies an essential Muybridge exhibition that began at the Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University and continues through May 16, 2004, at the Cleveland Museum of Art. Time Stands Still is itself wonderfully rigorous, generous in its descriptions and examples of Muybridge's mechanical innovations, sequential techniques and his zoopraxiscope discs by which animal movement could be viewed as a motion picture. Nor is the purely personal side of the great man ignored, thanks to a final footnoting essay about ‘The Larkyns Affair,’ in which Muybridge survived the role of a jealousy-maddened husband who shot and killed his wife's lover after learning that he had fathered Muybridge's only child. Acquitted on the grounds of ‘justifiable homicide,’ Muybridge stands as a symbol of Wild West justice almost as much as he towers among photography's trailblazers.” Iphoto News

“Sensational…One of the best volumes of 2003…” San Francisco Metro; “Staff Pick,” Powells.com; “5 Stars” BarnesandNoble.com, Amazon.com


Hoppé's Amerika

“A rediscovered prophet of modernism... Hoppé was one of the few photographers to make a successful transition from artistic but retrograde pictorialism, to forward looking, unaffectedly graphic modernism. Indeed, in traversing the length and breadth of America, from New Hampshire to the Florida Keys and Seattle to San Diego, Hoppé became the first photographer to apply the concept of a methodical survey to capture the American experience. There are striking similarities, both in ethos and specific subject matter, between Hoppé images and works by a host of American photographers, such as Alfred Stieglitz, Paul Strand, Edward Steichen, Charles Sheeler, Walker Evans, Edward Weston, and Ansel Adams.” The Art Newspaper

“As Mr. Prodger notes in his excellent introduction, Hoppé's photographs frequently paralleled or anticipated the work of other, more famous contemporaries. Thus, Hoppé's 1925 image of the Flatiron building, viewed in ghostly perspective through the backlit columns of an adjacent portico, owes much to Stieglitz's more celebrated – and indeed, iconic – shot of 1903, yet Hoppé's strikes me as the more beautiful of the two. Again in 1925, Hoppé had the novel idea of photographing rooftops from his window in the Shelton Hotel – then the tallest skyscraper in New York – and two years later, Stieglitz began producing similar views from the same hotel. The drama, as well as the energy, of his work lies in its bold composition. In his industrial photographs of Detroit and Pittsburgh – the masterpieces of this superb selection – conveyor belts, girders, trestles, and smokestacks punctuate and frame the human figures; and yet, tiny and almost inconspicuous as the workmen appear, they make the pattern meaningful. In a 1926 vista of tract houses rimmed by oil derricks at Signal Hill in Los Angeles, a lone man stands at a doorway in the foreground, like an accent mark on an indecipherable sentence. Even when he's satirical, as in a mordant shot of the roof of the Royal Palm Hotel in Miami, where two buzzards hunch glumly under a bellying star-spangled banner, the black birds aren't just ominous – they please the eye as shapes. For this extraordinary artist, sheer pleasure in the thing seen was an end in itself and could suffice. ” New York Sun


Impressionist Camera

“Timely and revealing… provides both a broad survey of the movement and the chance for in-depth investigation of several artists through the thoughtful presentation of more than 140 prints. Though many of the Pictorialists followed optics and the latest technology, their primary goal was the creation of beauty. They relied on certain motifs: winsome young women in long white gowns and loosened tresses, allegorical nudes, mothers and children, and farmers tilling their fields. To today's viewers, these themes carry with them an unavoidable sense of loss. If beauty was the goal achieved, melancholy was its twin.” ARTnews

“The St. Louis Art Museum is currently host to an exhibition of swooningly beautiful photographs from a critical era in photographic history that remains relatively unknown today. You might remember to bring your smelling salts with you. More than a few viewers may succumb to the heavy perfume, the rustle of velvet, the languorous heat of closed rooms, the melancholy of foggy days that seem to emanate from the images in the show. Peasants work their fields with timeless rhythms, the bounties of the earth are piled in bowls to delight the viewer, the artist works at his easel, the poet at his desk. Children frolic in verdant gardens. There is no discord in this world, only melancholy, an unidentifiable sadness. No wonder that when, circa 1914, reality hit, the Pictorialist vision faded away as if it had never existed. But, ah, how sweet it was to live in those days before the war!” Saint Louis Post-Dispatch

“A rare exhibit of European works that elevated pictorial photography to a fine art is having its only U.S. showing at the St. Louis Art Museum, a fitting homecoming for some pictures last seen here during the 1904 World's Fair. Impressionist Camera features more than 140 exquisite photographs. ‘This show is going to be fascinating, an eye-opener, and will present material American audiences have rarely seen,’ said photography historian Keith Davis, curator of photography at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.” Associated Press


Expression of the Emotions

“The macabre photographs are riveting. The ‘bonus tracks’ including a fascinating essay by Phillip Prodger on the dawn of scientific photography are excellent. This edition has the feel not of a lovingly restored museum piece but of a seminal work that needed only minor updating. It is as fresh and provocative as it was 125 years ago.” Steven Pinker, Science

“…the best production of Darwin's book ever published. ‘The Expression of the Emotions’ is one of Darwin's most readable works. It is alive with anecdotes, literary quotations and his own observations of his friends and children. Artificial intelligence nerds, neuropsychiatric white-coats and magazine psychobabblers all have some way to go to understanding the emotions, and there will be no better inspiration for them (and the rest of us) than the ideas of one of the master intellects of all time, in this smart new edition.” Scientific American

“The story of how Charles Darwin collected the specimens of human frowns, grimaces, smiles and sneers for his 1872 book ‘The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals’ would make any naturalist's hair stand on end. As Phillip Prodger states in the new edition of ‘The Expression of the Emotions,’ pictures of people with natural expressions were hard to come by. The photographic process was still fairly slow in 1869 [when he began to collect photographs for the book], and subjects had to sit motionless for a couple of moments while their portraits were taken. That, of course, was no way to capture fleeting motions.” New York Times

“You might reasonably ask why anyone should read this book, apart from its obvious interest as an historical classic. Ekman's essay on universality is a good reason, as is Phillip Prodger's very closely researched discussion of the book's photographs.” New Scientist

Inscribing Science

“Prodger is particularly impressive in his innovative analysis of Charles Darwin's integrative use of new photographic technologies to render persuasive some of his more radical textual claims about emotions in animals.” Journal of Interdisciplinary History

“Inscribing Science contains several excellent essays. Phillip Prodger discusses Darwin's use of photographs, demonstrating how Darwin manipulated the photos and their presentation to achieve his rhetorical purpose. The greatest strength in this volume is the cleverness with which the authors couple interesting and obscure vignettes from science history with their particular theoretical claims.” American Scientist