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If you’re in London (you lucky doggie) before December 11th, you can catch this exhibit at the Royal Academy of Arts, which consists of paintings, and sculptures by Degas, and photographs and films by him and his contemporaries.  Photos and film were the cutting edge of technology and Degas was right there, using them to enhance his work.

I love dancers and love his work because of how he captures moments.  It’s funny that he’s now seen as a very popular, warm, fuzzy impressionist, but he was radical in his time.  He was obsessed with capturing the human body in motion.

Edweard Muybridge, 'Woman dancing (Fancy)', plate 187 of Animal Locomotion,, 1884-86, Collotype on white wove paper, 18.4 x 41.7 cm. Royal Academy of Arts, London. Image © Royal Academy of Arts, London / Prudence Cuming

You have to remember that before photography, the only way you’d have a picture of someone or yourself was if it was painted.  When photography (new technology) became available, people adopted it for their own uses immediately, much like our own age.  Below is a Carte de Visite.  It’s a thin photograph mounted on thicker card stock and you’d give it out to friends and visitors.  Having your own photograph must have been thrilling.  People started trading cards with each other.  It was so popular that you used to display all your friends cards and try to buy celebrity cards.  Meet the great-great-grandma of Facebook.

The skirt is divine. 'Portrait of Marie Sanlaville in Costume for Don Juan', c. 1866–70, Carte de visite, 10.3 x 6.2 cm. Bibliothèque nationale de France, Paris. Bibliothèquemusée de l’Opéra. Image © Bibliothèque nationale de France.

So I pretty much gasped when I saw this photo.  It’s so evocative.  It’s like the image itself is projecting through time from the 19th century.  I could see this inspiring photo shoots, cinematographers, and designers.

Edgar Degas, 'Dancer Adjusting her Shoulder Strap', c. 1895-6, Modern print from gelatin dry plate negative. 180 x 130 mm. Bibliothèque nationale de France, Paris. Image © Bibliothèque Nationale de France.

Here’s a short video:

http://www.royalacademy.org.uk/exhibitions/degas/

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