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News Release — July 30, 2007

Ransom Center Introduces Photography Exhibition: "Dress Up: Portrait and Performance in Victorian Photography"

The Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center's exhibition "Dress Up: Portrait and Performance in Victorian Photography" explores Victorian culture through the period's fascination with the new medium of photography, particularly the photographing of people.

The exhibition, drawn exclusively from the Ransom Center's photography collections, runs from Sept. 4 to Dec. 30 at the Ransom Center Galleries at The University of Texas at Austin.

With the opening of this exhibition, the Center continues to commemorate its 50th anniversary year. "Dress Up" is one of many exhibitions and programs planned in a year dedicated to "Celebrating the Imagination."

Portrait and genre photography of the Victorian period reveal vivid artifice and unconcealed theatricality. While this practice was more common for images made for private use, many commercial and other publicly minded photographers also adopted aspects of performance into their work.

Most Victorian photography took place in highly controlled settings such as the photographer's studio. Backdrops, costumes, gesture and props were used to capture or embody a subject's personality or to redefine the subject in a new role, be it literary, artistic or purely imaginary.

In true Victorian fashion, all of these subjects are "playing" roles, with many images occupying a middle ground between the extremes of theatricality and identity.

"These photographs speak volumes about the Victorian period," says Ransom Center curator of photography David Coleman. "Yet they also possess an immediate appeal to today's audience. We all know the experience of getting our picture taken, so the themes of identity and performance in portraiture are very familiar."

The exhibition, which draws heavily on the Ransom Center's Helmut and Alison Gernsheim collection, highlights masterpieces of photographic portraiture and genre by Lewis Carroll, David Hill & Robert Adamson, Henry Peach Robinson and Julia Margaret Cameron.

Other works include an album of English royal tableaux vivants; photographs of a replica rural Swiss village, complete with mountain and villagers; medical photographs documenting expressions produced by electrical stimulation to the subjects' faces; and commercial portrait photographs using an array of remarkable backgrounds, poses and props.

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