HEMPHILL Presents Photographs from the Tom Birch Collection and James Britton

By Editorial Team on January 21, 2019
Danny Lyon, Ellis Unit, 1968, Printed c. 1982, gelatin silver print, mounted, signed below image, 7½” x 11″. Courtesy of HEMPHILL.
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Opening Reception: Saturday, January 26 from 6pm to 8pm
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Join HEMPHILL for the opening of the concurrent exhibitions, Photographs from the Tom Birch Collection and James Britton on Saturday, January 26, 2019.

Photographs from the Tom Birch Collection
There is something inherently strange about a photograph: its pretense of veracity, the illusion of an unpremeditated subject, and the feeling of an unmediated presence. Herein lies the beauty of the medium and the opportunity for collecting photographs to become an adventure. A collection of photographs can tell us many things. In the best photography collections, each photograph is a knot on a thread leading to ever deeper and more penetrating experiences of beauty. Sometimes it is an elusive beauty captured from the real world. Other times beauty is exposed within something boring, horrible or shocking, revealed by the craft of the photographer and the willingness of the viewer to engage.

The Tom Birch Collection tells us he collected fearlessly, always reaching for the next new beauty. In reviewing personal collections one becomes used to seeing the predictable pantomiming of the reassuring qualities of the museum’s canon. One sees collections based on themes that barely recognize the inner dynamic of individual artworks. Some collections reflect only the desire to soothe, never to challenge, when so much more can be experienced. It is clear Tom Birch was spurred onward by a willingness to explore the widest range of what photography had to offer. This manner of collecting nudges the idea of taste away from a fixed set of rules into an evolving narrative of personal discovery. For Tom, each photograph is a moment on a clock spinning backwards through his life, telling him of the places his consciousness occupied before and then after acquiring each picture.

Some collections are broken up among heirs, some rightly go to institutions, and others are sold. In the selling of the Birch collection there is the goal of setting the artworks free to travel into the hearts and minds of other people, expanding their experiences of strange and wonderful beauty. Now, it is time for each of the photographs to become milestones in other collectors’ lives.

Photographs from the Tom Birch Collection includes works by Ansel Adams, Merry Alpern, Manuel Álvarez Bravo, A. Clarke Bedford, Zeke Berman, Karl Blossfeldt, Félix Bonfils, William Dassonville, Robert Frank, Lee Friedlander, André Gelpke, Jan Groover, Graciela Iturbide, André Kertész, Yevgeny Khaldei, Jacques-Henri Lartigue, Helen Levitt, Danny Lyon, Ralph Steiner, Steve Szabo, Ruth Thorne-Thomsen, George Tice, and Joel-Peter Witkin.

James Britton, Drying Sumac, Manchester, CT, 1935, oil on board, 8 3/4″ x 6 1/4″. Courtesy of HEMPHILL.

James Britton
A devoted student of the natural sublime, portraiture, and visual criticism, Connecticut-born artist James Britton gave his life to art. He was a prolific writer and note taker, keeping detailed journals of his observations and notes on his life. These writings have compelled curators and historians to revisit his work, having fallen into relative obscurity after his death in 1936, a victim of ailing health and poverty. Despite his meager financial resources, he used whatever tools and materials were available to him, at times using scraps of cereal boxes as canvases for his paintings. He held a deep affection for the splendor of the New England countryside, from Connecticut to New York, and focused primarily on these subjects in the later years of his life. The 10 works on view in James Britton highlight the artist’s command of paint and light. None larger than a sheet of paper, each painting reveals itself to be an exquisite object, inviting closer inspection. Through this small survey of his later works, we are given a glimpse into the artist’s celebration of the American Northeast of the 1920s and 30s.

James Britton (1878 – 1936) was born in Hartford, Connecticut. Active in New York and New England from the 1900s to the 1930s, Britton was well known as both an artist and a writer. In New York, Britton formed an exhibiting group of artists called The Eclectics, which included at times Maurice Prendergast, George Luks, Philip L. Hale and Theresa Bernstein. His work was exhibited regularly in New York City, Connecticut, Boston, and Gloucester, Massachusetts. In addition to his published writings in American ART News and other periodicals and journals, Britton maintained diaries over some 30 years. Britton’s papers are now at the Smithsonian Institution’s Archives of American Art. In 2005, James Britton: Connecticut Artist, was assembled at the Lyman Allyn Art Museum in New London, CT. His work is included in such collections as the Wadsworth Atheneum, the New Britain Museum of American Art, the Florence Griswold Museum, The Mark Twain House and Museum, The Parrish Art Museum, and The New York Public Library. This show marks the first time the work of James Britton has been exhibited in Washington, DC.

HEMPHILL  is located at 1515 14th Street NW #300, Washington DC, 20005 | 202.234.5601 | gallery@hemphillfinearts.com | www.hemphillfinearts.com