This exhibition presented the multifaceted aspects of the life and work of the fascinating Boston figure Fred Holland Day, a turn-of-the-century eccentric who made significant contributions to artistic photography. Initially, Day made his name in fine book publishing, founding with his friend Herbert Copeland in 1893 the small but leading firm Copeland & Day. In the mid-1880s, Day became interested in photography, joining the Pictorialist crusade to prove that photography could be a fine art and becoming one of the most colorful and important figures of the movement. Besides being an expressive portraitist, Day made sensuous, soft-focus photographs with an aura of mystery and literary symbolism that included idealized images of African Americans and male nudes.
In 1898 Day produced his most famous body of work, an extensive series of photographs for which he played the role of Christ. His Sacred Studies, as he called them, were both widely acclaimed for their high-art aspirations and criticized as blasphemous.
The sensitivity of Day’s male figures may indicate that he was homosexual, although nothing specific is known of the photographer’s private life.
After 1900, Day built a Swiss-style chalet on the coast of Maine to which he invited close friends and their families as well as disadvantaged, inner-city youths, allowing them time with nature and the sea, away from the hardships of their urban lives, and teaching them about photography.
A traveling show, “Art and the Camera: The Photographs of F. Holland Day” was enhanced at the MFA with additional photographs as well as a substantial selection of books from Day’s publishing enterprise, Copeland & Day, thereby making it the most in-depth presentation.
This exhibition was organized by the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, in collaboration with the Royal Photographic Society, Bath, England.
Additional support for the exhibition and the exhibition catalog provided by The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation.
The Library of Congress has generously made loans to the exhibition.
The presentation in Boston is sponsored by State Street Global Advisors and State Steet Corporation.
The media sponsor in Boston is 90.9 wbur.