George Eastman House Presents Norman Rockwell Behind the Camera

The George Eastman House presents Norman Rockwell: Behind the Camera an exhibition on view through September 18, 2011 in the Brackett–Clark Gallery.

Norman Rockwell (1894-1978) adopted photography in the mid-1930s as a tool to bring his illustration ideas to life in studio sessions. He carefully orchestrated the photographs, hand-selecting the props, locations, and models. Rockwell created an abundance of photographs for each new subject, sometimes capturing complete compositions and other times combining separate pictures of individual elements.

For the first time, Norman Rockwell: Behind the Camera presents more than 100 study photographs with his drawings — and related tear sheets of magazine covers plus photography equipment, archival letters, and an introductory film — offering an in-depth look at the artist’s working process. The camera brought a new flesh-and-blood realism to his work, and opened a window to the keenly observed authenticity that defines his art.

“Norman Rockwell was a natural storyteller with an unerring eye for detail,” said Stephanie Haboush Plunkett, chief curator of Norman Rockwell Museum, which organized the exhibition. “This groundbreaking exhibition shows how that narrative instinct found its first expression in the artist’s meticulously composed photographs.”

In addition to original art from Norman Rockwell Museum’s collection, several works are on loan from such noted institutions as Taubman Museum of Art and The National Air and Space Museum. The result is a compelling frame-by-frame view of the development of some of Rockwell’s most indelible images. At the same time, the photographs themselves are fully realized works of art in their own right. Over the 40 years Rockwell used photographs as his painting guide, he worked with many skilled photographers, particularly Gene Pelham, Bill Scovill, and Louis Lamone.

Rockwell became one of the most famous illustrators of his generation through his naturalistic, narrative paintings done in a readily recognizable style, which appeared in national magazines that reached millions of readers. Among the magazine covers in the exhibition are several from The Saturday Evening Post, for which Rockwell produced 323 covers over 47 years. He later turned his attentions to more socially relevant subjects for LOOK magazine, with which he had a decade-long relationship.

The Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Mass., organized the exhibition in collaboration with author and guest curator Ron Schick, whose companion book of the same name was released in 2009 by Little, Brown and Company ($40). Schick is the first researcher to undertake a comprehensive study of Norman Rockwell Museum’s newly digitized photography archives. This repository of nearly 20,000 images encapsulates Rockwell’s use of photography over four decades. The fragile acetate negative originals were prioritized for digitization under ProjectNORMAN, Rockwell Museum’s long-term digital preservation project. Also on view in the exhibition is the 1957 Kodak Colorama titled Closing Up a Summer Cottage, for which Rockwell served as art director.

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