By definition, photojournalism was never meant to translate into a critical gallery setting. With no steady track record to speak of the market for the medium has always been experimental at best. But for the last 16 years, Chelsea gallerist Steven Kasher has made a veritable art form of the business. His first archival exhibition—commemorating the 30th anniversary of the March on Washington—was a show of prints from the Black Star photography agency (hung in a dozen storefronts along lower Fifth Avenue) that captured various touchstones of the Civil Rights Movement. “I did it to show how effective the work could be-people would see it, there’d be protests, and the world could change,” says Kasher, who’s since exhibited photos from the vaults of The New York Times, United Press International, and the Magnum photo agency.
His latest endeavor wasn’t meant to incite any protests, but it’s already causing a stir amongst collectors. After meeting with gallerists across the country, the National Geographic Society tapped Kasher to assemble the first in a series of exhibits from their vaunted (and almost totally unpublished) 11-million piece archive in Washington, D.C. That partnership begins next month at Kasher’s gallery with The World in Black and White: Vintage Prints from the National Geographic Archive, a 150-piece show in 13 groupings of one-of-a-kind prints (with original captions scrawled on the backs). Future shows feature works that range from hand-tinted photos dating back to the Society’s founding in 1888 to Autochrome glass plates from the early 1900’s to the widespread use of color film spanning the 1930’s to the current day. (PHOTO: JOSEPH F. ROCK MONK WITH WOOF BLOCKS FOR PRINTING, CHONI, 1928.)
“They weren’t made to be art works on a wall, but I think every piece in our show can stand on its own,” says Kasher. He highlights classic NGS pieces, like the work of George Shiras III, who made the first nocturnal images of wildlife in 1902 using powdered magnesium-powered trip wires that literally had the animals triggering the flash, as well as the groundbreaking travel pictures of western China in the 1920’s and 30’s by gentleman explorer and botanist Joseph Rock. The survey also steps deftly outside the lines of standard exploration with a cache of snapshots taken by (and of) NGS founding member Alexander Graham Bell documenting his work on various inventions, including an early flying machine made entirely of tetrahedrons. Also of note are the decidedly posed homoerotic portraits of Sicilian youth by groundbreaking gay German photographer Baron Wilhelm von Gloeden. “They actually were connected to a story on Sicily from 1905.” says Kasher, “But you wouldn’t necessarily associate this with National Geographic.”
The World in Black and White will be on view September 17–October 17. Steven Kasher Gallery is located at 521 W. 23rd St., New York.