John Beasley Greene
John Beasley Greene an Egyptologist and student of photographer Gustave Le Gray, is historically one of the most important landscape photographers. He was a modernist photographer before Modernism; his images fuse monuments with site, emphasizing tonal nuance, spatial relationships, and overlooked landmasses rather than the more typical central focus on a solid monument surrounded by a site. John Beasley Greene became one of the first practicing archaeologists to use photography, though he maintained separate files for documentary images and his more artistic landscapes. In 1853, he embarked on his first expedition, creating over 250 plates of the Egyptian and Nubian landscape, with their monuments and inscriptions, and publishing an album upon his return. In the following few years, he would take two more trips, documenting excavations in Upper Egypt, and Christian monuments and landscapes in Algeria. His photographs were highly regarded by fellow Egyptologists for both their quality and archaeological value. Greene was a member of the Société Française de Photographie and died at the early age of 24, most likely of tuberculosis, leaving behind a significant body of work.
With his investigations of archeological sites in Egypt and Algeria, Greene is recognized as one of the most significant landscape photographers, not only of the 19th century, but of the medium’s history. SFMOMA mounted the first one-person museum exhibition of John Beasley Greene’s photographs which was on view August 31, 2019 through January 5, 2020, and published the accompanying exhibition catalog Signs and Wonders: The Photographs of John Beasley Greene.
As part of of the 2019-2020 season celebrating our 40 year anniversary the Robert Koch Gallery presented programing reflecting the breadth of work the gallery has exhibited and acquired during its history. This programing included pairing John Beasley Greene, active in the early 1850s, with contemporary gallery artist Adam Katseff. Though the appearance of Greene’s and Katseff’s work is quite different, both artists explore the landscape with a minimalist modern aesthetic. With his investigations of archeological sites in Egypt and Algeria, Greene is recognized as one of the most significant landscape photographers, not only of the 19th century, but of the medium’s history. Both Adam Katseff’s and John Beasley Greene’s photographs are images that are recognizable yet are imbued with inexplicable mystery that implores viewers to connect with the works using their personal history and imagination to interpret the images. It is this extraordinary power of art, whether found in 19th century photographs, avant-garde work of the early 20th century, or contemporary work, that sustains our passion for the photographic medium.