Charles Baudelaire  
 
In 1997, when Diana, Princess of Wales, died from injuries suffered in a car crash, media pundits were quick to blame the paparazzi--and by extension photography itself--for her untimely death. Following the broadcast of Diana's funeral to a rapt, worldwide television audience, other cultural observers suggested a more complex relationship between Diana and the media that hounded her, and between photography and the construction of fame. Through discussions on talk shows and in print, all with varying perspectives, people recognized that the most photographed woman in the world was as much a collaborator with and a beneficiary of photography's power as she was the medium's victim. Ironically, when motorized cameras whirred, strobes flashed, and videotape rolled, it was the Royal Princess who became a subject--the favorite subject of photographers--the focus of both sanctioned and invasive images that were devoured by a public that adored and outlived her.

The complicated, symbiotic relationship between photography and fame is at the heart of the exhibition Fame After Photography. Bringing together for the first time more than five hundred cultural artifacts and presenting them as the public first encountered them, the exhibition tracks how, since photography's invention in 1839, the representation and the meaning of fame in Western culture, and most particularly in America, have been changed by the medium we now all take for granted.

Before photography, fame was typically accorded for excellence of achievement or bestowed on those born into an aristocratic lineage. Fame was paid homage in epic poetry, and in prose and the famous were immortalized when their images were minted on coins, memorialized in massive architecture and sculpture, or captured in paintings, drawings, and prints commissioned for the moral benefit of and appreciation by elite audiences. But that all changed after the introduction of photography in 1839. Who could become famous, how their fame was recorded, and who would be remembered was revolutionized by the new medium.
 
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Étienne Carjat. Charles Baudelaire from Galerie Contemporaine (1876-84). c.1863. Woodburytype. 9 1/16 x 7 1/8 (23 x 18.1 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York
 
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