Collection 1880s–1940s


Motion and Illumination

Fall 2021 - Fall 2022


Brassaï (Gyula Halász). Fireworks on the Night of Longchamp. 1936. Gelatin silver print, 19 5/8 × 15 15/16" (49.9 × 40.5 cm). David H. McAlpin Fund. © Estate Brassaï-RMN
  • MoMA, Floor 5, 501 The Alfred H. Barr, Jr. Galleries

The French poet Charles Baudelaire voiced the sentiments of many when in 1863 he called for artists to abandon historical subjects in favor of the present moment. “Modernity,” he wrote, “is the transitory, the fleeting, the contingent.”

Newly invented lens-based technologies like photography and cinema were perfectly suited to capture the spontaneous pleasures of everyday life. As a product of the Industrial Revolution, photography was modern from the start. Much like locomotion and electricity, it introduced a new way of seeing the world—a form of vision mediated by machines. Some artists, awed by the speed of railway travel, depicted the blurred landscapes they witnessed from train windows. Others favored domestic interiors, using newly available gas and electric lamps to flood their scenes with light. Still others wandered the city, photographing and filming its dazzling illumination as dusk fell.

Organized by Rajendra Roy, The Celeste Bartos Chief Curator of Film, and Clément Chéroux, Joel and Anne Ehrenkranz Chief Curator of Photography, with Kaitlin Booher, Beaumont and Nancy Newhall Curatorial Fellow, Department of Photography, and Dana Ostrander, Curatorial Assistant, Department of Photography.

87 works online


Installation images

How we identified these works

In 2018–19, MoMA collaborated with Google Arts & Culture Lab on a project using machine learning to identify artworks in installation photos. That project has concluded, and works are now being identified by MoMA staff.

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MoMA licenses archival audio and select out of copyright film clips from our film collection. At this time, MoMA produced video cannot be licensed by MoMA/Scala. All requests to license archival audio or out of copyright film clips should be addressed to Scala Archives at [email protected]. Motion picture film stills cannot be licensed by MoMA/Scala. For access to motion picture film stills for research purposes, please contact the Film Study Center at [email protected]. For more information about film loans and our Circulating Film and Video Library, please visit

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