Artistic Photography by F. Holland Day at the Addison

Walking through the gallery and recounting stories beyond pictures, Trevor Fairbrother, guest curator, brought art enthusiasts gathered in the Addison Gallery of American Art on a journey through the work of Boston photographer F. Holland Day.

The exhibit featuring Day, “Making a Presence: F. Holland Day in Artistic Photography,” is arranged chronologically and follows different themes of bodies of Day’s work.

Day (1908-1933) was a pictorialist and a photographer based in Boston, who was motivated by the importance of aesthetics. According to Fairbrother, Day pioneered the movement of treating photography as a fine art, for during his time, photography was often simply thought of as technological development in imaging.

“Day was an eccentric man that was not afraid to express himself. We also set up the gallery to present Day’s works as a visual biography. The [exhibit’s] theme of identity coincides very nicely with a lot of the curriculum of the English and Art classes at Andover,” said Rebecca Hayes, Education Coordinator of the Addison.

Hand-drawn portraits and photographs of Day allow viewers to gain a sense of the person behind the works on exhibit.

While recounting Day’s life in photographs, Fairbrother noted that in addition to being a genius photographer, Day had a passion for performing.

It is this passion that served as a platform for the many portraits of Day, as there are many more portraits of Day than there are pieces of Day’s work, according to Fairbrother. The most well-known portrait of Day is “Solitude” (1901), which was taken by the American photographer, Edward Steichen (1879-1973).

“[Fairbrother’s] commentary lead me to think that [Day] played a bigger part than just being a model [in his portraits] in the way that the photograph was set up. Even though someone else was taking his picture, I feel like he had a large influence in his own position. Like in the ‘Solitude,’ I felt that [Day] contributed to the subtlety in the positioning of his hand proportionality to his face,” said Andy Schirmer, a local photographer from Andover, MA.

Other than “Solitude,” other notable photographs in the exhibit include Day’s “The Seven Words” (1898) and “The Smoker” (1897). Both of Day’s photographs highlight his use of strategic lighting and the resulting rough darkness, a technique characteristic of many of Day’s photographs.

In “The Smoker,” Day dressed his model, J. Alexander Skeete, a young African-American man, in a white sheet. The stark white sheet sharply frames the long black pipe that Skeete holds.

Day’s use of a variety of fabrics and forms of clothing for his models altered the identity of each model in his photograph. In another photo, Skeete is dressed in 20th century street clothes in a pinstriped suit and hat.

As he closed his talk, Fairbrother noted that Day was not a respected photographer during his final last years. His works were overshadowed by photographs of his concurrent rival, the American photographer Alfred Stieglitz (1864-1946), even though both photographers were very influential to the development of the photography as a fine art.

“I’ve always admired his [Day’s] work, and I think his contribution to the history of photography has been a little overlooked and underappreciated. I wanted to give him a bit more recognition that he deserved but didn’t get. After three years of preparing this show, I have to say—I admire him even more,” said Fairbrother, of his motivations for curating the exhibition of Day’s photography.

The exhibit “Making a Presence: F. Holland Day in Artistic Photography” will be on show in the Addison until July 31.

The Addison is also showing “In Character,” an exhibit featuring Cindy Sherman, that explores a similar theme of defining different identities through the use of props.