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Guided Tour of The American Museum of Photography

Guided Tour of The American Museum of Photography


I. M. Moser Photographic Studio, Aussee-ober-Steiermark, Austria: Guide to Salt Caverns. Hand-tinted albumen cabinet card, circa 1875

Guided Tour

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Thanks for joining us on the Museum’s Guided Tour today. There’s so much to explore here that our staff thought you might want to take a quick look around before getting started. This is about the only place on our site where you won’t find many pictures. That allows the Tour to load quickly. So to get to any of the features mentioned, just click on one of the bold links when you’re ready.

Floor Plan

We bill ourselves as “A Museum Without Walls… For An Art Without Boundaries.” Even though we have no walls, we do have “floors,” separate areas for different activities. At the bottom of most pages, you’ll find a navigation bar that will let you choose our Exhibitions floor, our Main Entrance floor, our Research Center or our Museum Shops. Just click on the place you want to visit. Or click on the Museum’s logo and you’ll find yourself transported to our Home Page.

You’re now at the Museum’s Main Entrance floor. In addition to picking up the tour here, you can catch up on all the Museum News–get updates on new and future exhibits, and read comments from your fellow museumgoers. Or visit our staff offices. Our Webmaster offers technical tips for getting the most out of this site, and he’ll gladly take a bug report. A few doors away, you’ll find the Director’s Office, where you can learn more about the Museum and our affiliated Collection. Researchers, editors, publishers and documentary producers should stop by the Registrar’s Office, where the business of searching the collection and providing our images for TV, film and print takes place; we’ve now added a link to an online image archive featuring hundreds of great photographs. Also on our Main Entrance floor, you’ll find our Performing Arts division–where you’ll get the latest on Brady of Broadway, Wm. B. Becker’s acclaimed stage play about the photographer Mathew Brady.



The heart of our Virtual Museum is the Exhibitions Floor. If you go directly to the floor, you’ll get a sample image for each of our 20 current shows, or you can select from the links right here.

Our new exhibition “Inventing Modernism” gathers previously-unseen images (and a couple of classics) to show that sophisticated visual experimentation was taking place years before the generally-accepted beginnings of modernism in photography. Among the pictures: a striking 1886 photograph made according to ideas so radical they were later likened to “a bomb-shell dropped in the midst of a tea-party.”

Another new exhibit, “Beneath the Wrinkle: An Experiment in Photography as Illustration” pairs a suite of photographic illustrations produced by Clarence H. White with the original short story that inspired the pictures. For the first time, all of White’s poetic images can be seen in their proper place and context– thanks to a little website magic. Additional features include a comparison between the original prints and the halftone reproductions of the same images, published in 1904.

2007 marked the 100th anniversary of color photography — specifically, the first practical process for making natural color photographs. These beautiful images on glass are featured in our exhibition, “Autochromes: The World Goes Color-Mad.You’ll find everything from a silk moth to a World War I army tank depicted in this wide-ranging exhibition, which manages to cover family life, recreation, high art (and high society), documentary images … even a little golf.

Sometimes researching photographs requires the skills of a detective. You can see for yourself — uncovering clues with just a few mouse clicks in our exhibition, “Pulp Pix: The Bizarre Case of Photography Noir. These “true crime” photographs feature murder, mayhem, and dames in distress. It’s not for the faint of heart!

Everyone loves special effects in the movies. But trick photography originated long before motion pictures were invented. This year for the first time we’ve grouped all of our exhibitions on manipulated photography into a Hall of Special Effects. You can find these exhibits conveniently listed together on our home page under the heading “Photographic Fictions” . We’ve added a couple of brief readings and a new exhibit on photomontage revealing just how early darkroom wizards worked their magic (You’ll also see how these techniques were used for political propaganda as far back as the Civil War.) Elsewhere in this Hall you can view “Faux Snow,”a show of cleverly faked snowstorms and winter scenes created indoors. For a different type of photographic foolery visit “Seeing Double: Creating Clones With A Camera.” . There you’ll view intentional double exposures, in which a person appears twice in the same photograph. It’s a simple technique that was used in some surprisingly creative and sophisticated ways.

“Do You Believe?” offers three galleries of spirit photography, from the 1860s through the 1930s. To believers, these photographs are proof that the spirit survives after death and can return in ghostly form to communicate with the living. As movies like “The Sixth Sense” prove, this is an enduring idea. Among the strongest supporters of spirit photography was Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes. Sir Arthur shows up in two of the images in this exhibition–and his appearance in the second one is, to put it bluntly, bizarre!

“‘Did You Ever Have A Dream Like This?'” is an introduction to the imaginative work of William H. “Dad” Martin–whose surrealistic photographic postcards (1908-1912) feature hunters stalking mammoth rabbits and farmers harvesting onions the size of washing machines. Complete your visit to the Hall of Special Effects here and see why Martin may be the best-selling photographer of all time!

For a more modern take on creative manipulation in photography, there’s “Scott Mutter: A More Perfect World.” Mutter’s photomontages share characteristics with the illusionist graphic works of M. C. Escher. There is a visual perfection to Mutter’s works, which invite us into a magical world that makes more sense than reality itself. Click on each image for a larger view and comments from the photographer. EXCLUSIVE: This is the ONLY internet exhibition of Scott Mutter’s images authorized by the artist before his death in 2008, and continued by arrangement with his estate. Collectors of Mutter’s work are invited to contact us for information on purchasing a very limited number of artist-signed posters and signed-and-numbered originals.

The rare photographs in “The Face of Slavery & Other Early Images of African Americans” are the raw material of history, covering half a century– from slavery to the promise of self-sufficiency. Click on each image for a larger view and sometimes provocative comments.

“Cross-Cultural Camera: How Photography Bridged East and West” traces the ways photography helped Westerners understand Japan’s rich cultural traditions. And it shows how the camera captured the craze for everything Japanese as it spread all the way to America’s frontier towns.

On the lighter side: “Photography as a Fine ARF!” This collection of remarkable photographs explores the bonds between dogs and humans. It features classic dog images from the daguerreotype period to the 1920s and includes a selection of photocollages by an Ohio dog breeder who delighted in turning people into canines. Even cat lovers are guaranteed a smile here!

The Daguerreotypes of Southworth & Hawes” features a group of long-lost images by America’s first masters of photography. Albert Sands Southworth and Josiah Johnson Hawes produced some of the greatest photographic portraits ever made, during their 1843-1862 partnership in Boston. The exhibit is accompanied by Southworth’s own writings (including his advice to ladies about sitting for daguerreotype portraits), by an 1855 review of the studio’s work, and by a report on the rediscovery and auction of 240 Southworth & Hawes daguerreotypes in 1999.

Masterworks of Photography” presents three galleries of great classics and rarely-seen masterpieces. It begins with the first photograph of a human figure on paper–by the inventor of the process–and runs through the work of Ansel Adams. There are daguerreotypes, Civil War photographs, platinum prints and a wonderful autochrome (an early color image on glass). The great photographers represented include Julia Margaret Cameron, Gertrude Kasebier, Clarence H. White and George N. Barnard, Carleton E. Watkins and the Bisson Freres. Click on any of the images for a closer look–and to read the story behind the photograph.

The lyrical black-and-white images in the exhibition “An Eye for the World” are a real rediscovery–photographs from a trip around the world by Shotaro Shimomura. They’re a masterful mix of the pictorialist and modernist styles current in the 1930s, found in their original wood presentation box in California. Our researchers worked for months to track down the story behind these remarkable images, and this exhibition has drawn more rave reviews from visitors than anything else on the site.

One of our most popular exhibits is “Selections.” It’s a changing showcase for new discoveries and all-time favorites from the Collection. If you haven’t checked in lately, you’re sure to enjoy a few surprises.

 At Ease” is a stereotype-smashing exhibition, featuring some of the earliest of all photographs–American portrait daguerreotypes from around 1850. Despite modern-day depictions of early portraits as stiff and harsh, these images are warm… relaxed…graceful–even funny! They’re accompanied by excerpts from a wonderful period text that makes it clear these superb portraits were no accident. (A quick tip: in this exhibit when you click for a closer look, a new page will open. If nothing happens, you may need to temporarily disable your pop-up stopper.)

Another popular exhibit, “Small Worlds,” is a favorite of history buffs. It’s a show of carte de visite photographs from the 1860s & 70s, heavy on Americana– Native Americans, a frontier town, Abraham Lincoln’s funeral, and a dramatic train wreck. Click on any image to see more–sometimes a LOT more! Take a moment to view our “Brief History of the Carte de Visite” while you’re here. “Small Worlds” was singled out in Museums on the Web as a model for other online exhibitions.

 Of Bricks & Light” is our most extensive web exhibit. If you’ve never paid much attention to early architectural photography, this show will be a real revelation. There are scenes of sweeping grandeur and humble interiors brought alive by magnificent natural light. You’ll see images of war-time destruction and view the first stirrings of the historic preservation movement. This show is organized into five galleries, each with a different theme. As ever, click on any photograph in a gallery to get a better look.

Other Features

In the Research Center, you’ll find a very helpful listing of various photographic processes. There’s also a new and important feature, Preserving and Protecting Photographs: A Product Guide. We offer specific recommendations based on our own experience, and provide a link to a key source for archival materials. The Research Center also offers links to selected photo-history sites on the web.

Our Membership Program is FREE to all friends of photography. You’ll get email announcements of new exhibits, invitations to our members-only exhibition previews, product discounts (of special interest to photographers and those caring for collections of photos), and more.

Keep an eye on our growing Museum Shops. We’re very proud of our exclusive line of Museum Posters, featuring some of our most popular images. The posters are BIG, the quality is superb, and there’s easy online ordering. Some of the greatest 20th Century Photographs are available as posters, too — view our picks and buy them (framed or unframed) online through our special arrangement with . And the Museum Bookstore allows you to browse through new and out-of-print titles and exclusive offerings. Check out our reviews of current titles, available through on-line ordering.

Enjoy your visit…and if there’s ever anything you’d like to suggest, remember we’re just an email away!


About our location: The American Museum of Photography is a Virtual Museum, located only on the Internet. We are open 24 hours a day, year-round.

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