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June 28, 2000 to September 3, 2000

Fin de Siecle: Philadelphia 2000

This exhibition plays upon the notion of "fin de siècle": the mood characterizing the transition from one century to another. Contemporary images of the City of Philadelphia are presented together with postcards of Philadelphia landmark buildings made between 1904 and 1914. Recent photographs by Philadelphia-based artists Linda Adlestein, Vincent David Feldman, and Ron Tarver all use techniques or employ effects characteristic of the late19th- and early-20th centuries. In their evocations of the past, these photographers also chronicle our transition into the 21st century, while the postcards are benchmarks of the City's appearance nearly a century ago.

If there is a muse informing the premise of this exhibition, then it is French photographer Eugène Atget (1857-1927). From 1898 until his death, Atget charted the dramatic urban transformations then taking place in Paris. He captured poignant, tell-tale signs of the city's changing face -- its outdoor cafés, public parks, old trees, narrow, historic streets, working-class homes, and outmoded factories -- in a manner that was simultaneously documentary, sentimental, and cautionary. Atget recorded his photographic inventory of "old Paris" during the last phase of Baron Georges Hausmann's plan of radically redesigning the Parisian cityscape.

Because he photographed early in the morning, a quiet, mournful ambience pervades Atget's people-less photographs. Ron Tarver aims to capture something similar - what he describes as "the soul of the city" - but by working at night. In contrast to Tarver's soft-focus, poetic black-and-white images, Vincent David Feldman artfully documents, in crisp detail, civic buildings in decline, twice removed from their original function, as well as ones that have been razed since the photograph was taken; Feldman soberly updates Atget's project in a different context. Linda Adlestein's hand-painted, layered photographs share the romance of Atget's vision, though thankfully the Philadelphia landmarks on which she focuses are not endangered.

From the collection of Harvey Elfenstein, the images represented in these early postcards of Philadelphia are reminders of the City's grandeur and bustle before World War I and offer historic parallels to the "new Paris" with which Atget was confronted.

Linda Adlestein manipulates her large-scale photographs to suggest a Romantic sensibility and a fascination with ruins. She superimposes two negatives -- one of a Philadelphia architecutral landmark, the other typically of a wall or some other textured surfaceóand turns the orientation of the latter, rendering it a ghost-like presence. She prints the layered photograph with sepia, commonly used by photographers at the turn of the 20th century. She then hand-tints the final image with a muted palette of colors, alluding eloquently to the process of decay and the passage of time. Adlestein's images in this exhibition include: Memorial Hall; Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts; Winter, Rittenhouse Square; and City Hall. Adlestein's photographs are courtesy Schmidt/Dean Gallery, Philadelphia.

Adlestein's work has been exhibited in Kyoto, Paris, Florence, and thoughout the East Coast. Her portfolio "Italia" was published in Spiral Magazine and was aired on cable television in New York. She has received several grants such as the La Napoule Art Foundation Artists' Residency Program Grant and a Pennsylvania Council on the Arts Fellowship.

Vincent David Feldman uses a view camera to photograph late 19th- and early 20th-century landmark buildings and other civic sites that have fallen from grace. The view camera allows him to photograph an entire facade while also capturing minute architectural details, graffiti, and other signs of distress and retrofitting. Sometimes Feldman focuses on only a part of a building's façade, other times he includes more of the contemporary context and in doing so suggests the lost glory of these sites, which are, for him, more animated once they have been abandoned. Feldman's photographs are courtesy of the artist.

Feldman received his MFA in 1997 from Tyler University and is currently an adjunct professor of photography and Drexel University. He has also taught photography at Bucks County Community College and Tyler University. In 1999, Feldman won first prize at the City Paper Photography Competition and has had several solo exhibitions, most recently at Nihonbashi in Tokyo and at the Paley Design Center at Philadelphia University.

Ron Tarver's approach to photography consciously recalls the soft-focus aesthetic of the Photo Secessionists, artists active in the early decades of the 20th century who argued for photography's status as a fine art medium. Tarver photographs all manners of buildings, but for this exhibition he presents several recent images of off-the-beaten-track working- and middle-class dwellings that are both typical and atypical of Philadelphia. He develops his often deliberately blurry prints with coffee to achieve a patina effect. Tarver's works are courtesy of the artist and the Sande Webster Gallery, Philadelphia.

Tarver is a staff photographer at The Philadelphia Inquirer and is the founder and director of PhotoSession, an annual photography conference in Philadelphia. Recent solo exhibitions include: Eastern State College; the Philadelphia Art Alliance; the Samuel S. Fleisher Memorial; and Beaver College. Tarver has been awarded the National Newspaper Magazine Society Award and the National Press Photographers Association Award, among several other honors.

Tags: photography