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Robert Burley: The Disappearance of Darkness Opens at George Eastman House on September 20

Exhibition addresses the emergence of a new photographic technology and the abrupt breakdown of a century old industry

Rochester, N.Y., September 9, 2014—George Eastman House will open the exhibition Robert Burley: The Disappearance of Darkness on September 20. The exhibition examines both the dramatic and historical demise of film-manufacturing facilities and industrial darkrooms on an international scale, including corporations such as Kodak, Agfa-Gevaert, and Ilford. It documents the impact of the emergence of digital imaging technologies, which irrevocably changed photography and led to the abrupt and rapid breakdown of a century-old industry that embodied the medium’s material culture. The exhibition will be on view in the museum’s special exhibition galleries through January 4, 2015.

Robert Burley, associate professor at the School of Image Arts at Ryerson University, is a Canadian artist, whose photographs of the visual landscape have been celebrated internationally for the past thirty years. His series The Disappearance of Darkness began as a study of the distinctive industrial architecture of Kodak Canada, prompted by the planned decommissioning of the site. A consistent theme of Burley's work has been the contemporary built and cultivated landscape, so the unique character of buildings constructed to manufacture light-sensitive materials in near-total darkness was something that attracted him, and he wanted to document it before it was gone. As he was working on the project, the transition from analog to digital imaging technologies accelerated, spurring him to continue his documentation on an international scale. He was granted permission to shoot at Agfa-Gevaert in Belgium, Ilford in the UK, Polaroid in Waltham, MA, and Kodak in Rochester to complete his project.

“The history of photographs has always been inextricably linked to the history of photographic technology and materials,” said Lisa Hostetler, curator-in-charge, Department of Photography, George Eastman House. “When the daguerreotype gave way to albumen silver printing from wet-collodion negatives around 1860, the eminent partnership of Southworth & Hawes had difficulty negotiating the transition and was unable to sustain its status in the field, eventually closing its doors. Burley is capturing a similar transition from analog to digital in the 21st century, and because the practice of photography has become an enormous consumer market, the impact now is more wide-spread.”

In addition, George Eastman House is asking visitors to join the conversation about the changing nature of photographic practice. Photo in Flux: Join the Conversation is a physical space for visitors to discuss the fall exhibitions, which both engage issues related to photographic technology, as well as to share their views on photography’s current time of transition. Curatorial staff at the museum is collecting and sharing responses and results in an online blog to open the conversation beyond the museum’s walls. For more information on how you can join the conversation, visit http://photoinflux.tumblr.com/intro. The blog will go live and the conversation will begin on September 20.

“George Eastman House is excited to host this dialogue about the state of photography, and we hope to spark speculation amongst our visitors about where it may be headed next,” added Hostetler. “Robert Burley: The Disappearance of Darkness is a sensitive and timely observation of and meditation on this watershed moment in the history of photography when the photographic industry is transforming itself before our eyes.”

Robert Burley: The Disappearance of Darkness was curated by Dr. Gaëlle Morel, Exhibitions Curator, Ryerson Image Centre, and it was produced and organized by the Ryerson Image Centre, with generous support from the Canada Council for the Arts. Exhibitions are included with museum admission. For more information, visit eastmanhouse.org or call (585) 271-3361.