Object Lesson: Studio Window, West 56th Street, New York by Leslie Gill

Leslie Gill (American, 1908–1958), Studio Window, West 56th Street, New York, c. 1938, Gelatin silver print, Gift of Frances McLaughlin-Gill, 83.157.3

Photographs of and through windows have remained popular throughout the history of photography. In the early years, the presence of windows was driven by necessity: photography in its infancy required great amounts of light, and windows obliged. When light was no longer the primary factor, one still had to contend with mobility—or rather, a lack of it. Cumbersome equipment could easily be pointed at or out of the window, which often provided a constantly changing set of views to record. Finally, there is the conceptual motive: photographing a window is, essentially, photographing photography. A room with a window is a chamber with an aperture, so to place a camera within that chamber pointing out is to nest a camera within a camera. This history may have mattered little to Leslie Gill when he created this tightly framed masterpiece, which looks almost as if someone has opened up a panel in one of Piet Mondrian’s canvases to discover that the real world is hidden behind it.

Russell Lord, Freeman Family Curator of Photographs, Prints, and Drawings

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