A History of Handwork: Photographs from the SCMA Collection

September 8 – December 3, 2017

The rise of digital manipulation in photography is accompanied by a corresponding anxiety about whether or not photographs are still truthful. The veracity of the photographic image, however, has always trafficked more in customs and beliefs than in facts. For example, most of us accept a monochromatic, two-dimensional photograph as an accurate representation of a colorful, three-dimensional world.

A History of Handwork: Photographs from the SCMA Collection highlights the manual and material practices that have always been foundational to the medium. They remind us that it is people, not machines, who have invented photographic chemistry, technology, fact, and fiction.


This installation features works from the nineteenth through the twenty-first century, including selections of hand-colored snapshot photographs from a recent gift by Peter J. Cohen. These images reveal a form of agential engagement between a photographic object and a colorist, whose desire to animate and vivify the photograph through color is manifested in these unique objects.

The range of works in the exhibition creatively explore photography’s potential to depict more than simply what appears in front of the camera. We invite you to consider these moments of photographic handwork as truths of a different kind.

A History of Handwork was co-curated by Anna C. Lee, Post-Doctoral Fellow in Art History, and Aprile Gallant, Curator of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs, with contributions by Renna Bushko, ‘18, Emma Crumbley ‘19,  Ana C. Ledgerwood ‘17,  Julia B Smith ‘19, and Tyra Wu '19. The installation was supported by the Louise Walker Blaney, class of 1939, Fund for Exhibitions



Image Credits: TOP Henry Peach Robinson. English, 1830–1901. When the Day's Work is Done. 1877. Albumen print from six wet collodion negatives mounted on board. Purchased with the fund in honor of Charles Chetham and the Carol Ramsay Chandler Fund. BOTTOM Unknown. American, 20th century. Untitled [woman at podium], n.d. Gelatin silver print with applied color. Gift of Peter J. Cohen in honor of Margaret Edson, class of 1983