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Tiny Mysteries: Decoding the Wagner’s 19th-Century Microphotographs

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Wagner Free Institute of Science

1700 W Montgomery Ave

Philadelphia, PA 19121

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An illustrated Weeknights at the Wagner lecture:

Tiny Mysteries: Decoding the Wagner's 19th-Century Microphotographs
By Byron Wolfe and Daniel Seth Kraus

Sometime around 1850, German immigrant Frederick Langenheim traveled from Philadelphia to New York City and made two photographs. The pictures were preserved on glass plates slightly larger than a one dollar bill, then later reduced to be pin-head sized images saved on microscopic slides. The photographs are too small to be deciphered with the naked eye. These microphotographs are now in the collection of the Library & Archives at the Wagner Free Institute of Science.

In 2017, artists Byron Wolfe and Daniel Seth Kraus, recipients of a Temple-Wagner Humanities & Arts Research Fellowship, teamed up to determine that the slides are two of the earliest photographic images of Manhattan and Staten Island. They also set out to answer the many questions that emerged from these unusual objects. Wolfe and Kraus will show photographs they made in response to the originals, and discuss how these tiny forms of material culture create a network of surprising connections between the histories of immigration, science, mental health institutions, information technology, commerce, and photography.

This research was supported through a 2017 Temple-Wagner Humanities & Arts Research Fellowship. With funding from Temple University Presidential Humanities & Arts Research Program, the Temple University-Wagner Free Institute of Science Humanities & Arts Research Alliance is intended to stimulate opportunities for Temple faculty and qualified graduate students in the Arts and Humanities to work with the Wagner Free Institute of Science.

About the speakers:

Byron Wolfe is the Program Director and Graduate Advisor for Photography at the Tyler School of Art, Temple University. He collaborates on long-term research projects with students and colleagues in fields that range from Visual Arts to Humanities to the Natural Sciences. He uses photography and other visualization tools to tell stories that reflect upon broader notions of culture, and the constructions of landscape, perception, and time. To date, Wolfe has authored or co-authored six books and his work has appeared in Harpers Magazine, The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, Orion, and more. He is a Guggenheim Fellow, a co-recipient of the Pollock-Krasner Award for still photography, and a recipient of the Santa Fe Prize for Photography. His work is numerous permanent collections including The George Eastman Museum, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston.

Daniel Seth Kraus received his MFA in photography from the Tyler School of Art, Temple University in 2017. His work blends historical research with photographic practice to deepen our understanding of people and places. His research includes investigations of faith and work in the American South which culminate in artist books and exhibitions. At present, he is photographing the history and remains of a mothballed federal works project, the Cross Florida Ship Canal. Kraus’s work has been featured in numerous print and online publications, including Fraction Magazine, SeeSaw Magazine, Oxford American, and Aint-Bad Magazine. His photographs have been exhibited in national and international juried exhibitions, including the Morris Museum of Art in Augusta, Georgia. In 2016 Kraus received College Arts Association’s Professional Development Fellowship in Visual Arts.


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Wagner Free Institute of Science

1700 W Montgomery Ave

Philadelphia, PA 19121

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