Special Edition After Baldus
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After Baldus is a multi disciplinary international research project that investigates the relationships between history, memory, memorialization and photography in the built landscapes of Picardy, France. Developed collaboratively by Dutch artists/photographers Cary Markerink and Theo Baart and American writer/historian/curator Alison Nordström, the project will lead to an exhibition an publication in 2017.
The inspiration and starting point for this project is the 1855 photographic album Chemin de Fer du Nord by Eduard-Denis Baldus. Commissioned by Baron de Rothschild, Baldus, and probably other photographers as well, photographed the newly constructed railway line between Boulogne-sur-Mer
and Paris by which Queen Victoria would travel during her state visit to France.
The album contains 50 large albumenized salt-prints that depict, not only the stations, bridges and other structures directly related to the railroad, but also reveal the built landscapes that defined and were defined by the railroad, including the harbor, chateaux, cathedrals and other places of interest not visible from the train. Although the images vary in content, they share a straight informational style that, in the 20th century, would have been called documentary. The photographs embody the inherent tension between the descriptive and the artistic that we find in many early historical photographs, and raise profound issues about how we know what we know of the past.
The Chemin de Fer du Nord album is of interest for several additional reasons. It is, in a sense, one of the world’s first photographic books, produced in an edition of 25 and distributed to the train’s royal passengers and wealthy sponsors. Historically, its images can be read as markers of their time,
what noted art historian Malcolm Daniel called “icons of Second Empire Grandeur”, noting the photographer’s “monumental depictions of France’s architectural patrimony, dramatic landscapes and his visual celebrations of the achievements of modern architects and engineers.” Of greatest significance to this project, it also constitutes an early systematic photographic survey of a region that has continued to be subject to similar efforts for military, economic and artistic reasons. This is the aspect of the early work that After Baldus will address and interpret.