The book, Celebrating the Negative, is about the original matrix on which some of the most important photographers of the 19th and 20th centuries caught their most famous images. The digital image has made film obsolete, but through the loving observation of the original of some iconic pictures, Loengard demonstrates that the photographic negative is an object of great beauty.
He captures the work of photographic masters such as Alexander Gardner, Man Ray, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Walker Evans, and Imogen Cunningham, to name a few, and shows the loving hands of those who keep these negatives safe, the curators, artists (and the heirs to famous photographers) who interact with the negative as a unique, original, and beautiful object.
As World War II began in 1939, Henri Cartier-Bresson cut his 35-millimeter negatives apart from the frames adjacent to them in order to fit his favorite frames into a small Huntley & Palmers cookie tin for safekeeping. Nearly 50 years later, George Fèvre, Cartier-Bresson’s printer, at Picto Labs in Paris, put a 1932 negative on the light table.
Oddly enough, sprocket holes are missing on one side of the film. Possibly it was manufactured without them. Possibly someone has cut them off. I asked Cartier-Bresson (he was standing with us). “I swallowed them,” he said.
John Loengard, Celebrating the Negative is available to museums as a touring exhibition from Curatorial Assistance.