The enduring fascination with flowers and plants as a subject for the photographer’s lens is the focus of The Silver Garden, a choice bouquet of more than 60 photographs from the collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. On view from February 19-July 17, 2005 in the Julien Levy Gallery, the exhibition brings together works by masters like Ansel Adams, Harry Callahan, Imogen Cunningham, Paul Strand, Josef Sudek, Edward Steichen, and Brett Weston, among many others. The exhibition coincides with the 176th Philadelphia Flower Show, produced by the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society at the Pennsylvania Convention Center from March 6-13, 2005.
Roses, peonies, lilacs, dahlias, ferns, roots and even weeds can be found in The Silver Garden. A highlight of the exhibition is the inclusion of more than a dozen recent additions to the Museum’s photography collection by internationally known contemporary artists such as Tom Baril and Maria Martinez-Cañas, as well as Philadelphia-area artists Andrea Baldeck and Roger Matsumoto, shown here for the first time.
"As pastimes, photography and gardening share similar frustrations and satisfactions," noted Katherine Ware, the Museum’s Curator of Photographs, who chose the images for the exhibition. "Both offer delayed gratification, in that the results of creative toil is usually deferred and sometimes unexpected. In the darkroom tray, a photographic image blossoms forth from the interaction of silver and chemicals as astonishingly as a bud issues from a bare twig in springtime and as magically as a stem emerges from a small, hard seed in the soil."
The artists’ varied approaches to photographing flowers and plants create a broad landscape for visitors. Cunningham made many of her famous plant pictures in her own backyard while she looked after her young sons, while Adams and Callahan tended to photograph in forests and fields. Strand was so drawn to making plant studies that in 1976 he created a portfolio of images titled The Garden.
The artists take visitors to gardens and fields across the world. Robert Frank glimpses a Backyard in California, from his 1955 series The Americans; Ansel Adams goes to Honolulu for Roots of a Banyan Tree, Foster Botanical Garden, Honolulu (1947-48), then travels to Alaska for Leaves and Horsetails (1947-48); Edward Steichen captures the classic beauty of Heavy Roses, Voulangis, France (1914 negative), while Harry Callahan finds charm in Weeds on Glass, Chicago (c. 1952, printed later).
The exhibition title The Silver Garden refers to the presence of silver salts in most photographic materials, which is why black-and-white photographs are referred to as "gelatin silver prints."
Housing some 150,000 works of art, the Department of Prints, Drawings and Photographs at the Philadelphia Museum of Art is nationally recognized for the breadth and depth of its collections as well as the flair and scholarship of its exhibitions. The Department presents rotating installations of its vast holdings in the Berman and Stieglitz Galleries and the Julien Levy Gallery on the Museum’s ground floor and the Eglin Gallery on the first floor. Individual works are also on view in the Museum’s permanent collection galleries.