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H.H. Bennett's Wisconsin Dells: Then and Now


One of H.H. Bennett's signature images, "Under the Overhanging Rock," circa 1900 (top) paired with photographer Bill Pielsticker's 2009 photo from the same vantage point

H.H. Bennett, one of the 19th century's most prolific landscape photographers, captured the rugged beauty of the Dells of the Wisconsin River and shared his magnificent images with armchair travelers from coast to coast, leading in large measure to the Wisconsin Dells area's popularity as an early Wisconsin tourism attraction. Tourists still flock to the Dells today to view and photograph its five miles of spectacular canyons, cliffs and craggy rock formations. A new exhibit opening at the Wisconsin Historical Museum on September 21, "H.H. Fast Forward: Rephotographing the Work of Henry Hamilton Bennett," pairs 15 of Bennett's best-known landscapes with Lodi, Wisconsin, photographer Bill Pielsticker's contemporary photos of the same locations. One of the pairings, "Under the Overhanging Rock," appears above.

The Golden Age of Landscape Photography

Bennett made most of his landscape photographs during what critics still consider "the golden age of landscape photography," an era spanning the years immediately following the Civil War to the 1890s. While his contemporaries captured breathtaking views of the Western wilderness, Bennett's own photographs complemented their work by recording the unspoiled beauty of an America accessible to all — yet existing on the very edge of the western frontier.

In a 1963 exhibition on American landscape photography at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, exhibit curator John Szarkowski said, "[Bennett] showed a fairy story landscape, rugged and wild in half scale, with enchanted miniature mountains and cool dark caves; and in this landscape a human reference, most often a figure, neatly dressed, poised, superior to the site but with friendly feelings toward it. It was a portrait of the American discovering an identity with the wild world."

About Bennett and the Rephotography Process

In conjunction with the exhibit, the museum will hold an opening reception on Friday, October 1, during Madison's Gallery Night that is free and open to the public. On Tuesday, October 19, the museum will host a panel discussion featuring photographers Bill Pielsticker, B. Tracy Madison, Zane Williams and Andy Kraushaar. They will examine the art, science and challenges of a rephotography project as well as H.H. Bennett's place in the history of photography.

If You Go

For complete details on the museum's location, hours of operation, admission and other details, see the museum's visitor information section.

:: Posted September 17, 2010

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