In Concert: Photography and the Violin, at Transformer Station


Wandering Violinist, Abony, Hungary, July 1921. Estate of André
Kertész, 2022. Courtesy of Stephen Bulger Gallery, Toronto

Transformer Station plays a new tune with a lively show of photography focused on the violin, assembled by Pittsburgh collector Evan Mirapaul and organized by Carnegie Museum of Art curator Dan Leers.

With over 250 images, this fascinating exhibition explores intertwined histories of the camera and the violin, spanning the life of photography from its invention to the present. Transformer Station founders Fred and Laura Bidwell are longtime friends with Evan Mirapaul, connected by, among other things, a love of photography and a shared passion for collecting.

Mirapaul’s photography collection is both deep and wide. He is highly knowledgeable about the medium through experience built over years of combing through galleries, art fairs, and auctions and strong connections to photography curators and dealers. What is on view here is just a corner of Mirapaul’s sprawling collection of over 2000 objects, but it unites two of the collector’s passions. Mirapaul’s experience as a concert violinist and his knowledge of fine art photography led him to this intriguing and unique insight: both the violin and the camera have had a profound impact on creative expression over time and in virtually every country, culture, and class.

The exhibition design is by Dan Leers, curator of photography at Carnegie Museum of Art. Leers has carefully selected images from the collection to reveal the many layers of musical and performance histories of the violin and the ever-evolving nature of the photographic medium. Photography has been in a state of constant revolution since it progressed from a complex and novel new technology to an ever more accessible visual tool for personal expression and, ultimately, mass communication. The violin and the violinist have been favorite subjects for the camera throughout its history.

A key theme of the exhibition is the presence of both the violin and the camera in virtually every world culture. Leers’ show masterfully unfolds these interleaved histories. Both have been symbols of class privilege and instruments of democratization because of their portability and ready availability. Formal concert portraits of famous European violinists stand alongside vernacular photographs set on the porch of a Midwestern farmhouse; soldiers returning from war brandishing violins hang beside young girls in ruffles holding their first fiddles. People from marginalized communities such as African Americans or 19th-century European immigrants pose with their violins as evidence of their assimilation or proud symbols of their own cultures. Images presented here cover virtually the whole history of the photographic medium from the daguerreotype to the Polaroid, cartes de visite to movie stills, and works from forgotten photo studios and family albums to iconic images by legends of fine art photography.

This exhibition is a feast for lovers of all of the arts and is evidence of the irrepressible creative urge of humanity to be seen and heard on their own terms. Issues regarding race, gender, and class are certainly on display, accompanied by thoughtful and accessible didactic materials that will explore the nuances and challenges these images sometimes present. From high culture to low culture, from wealth to poverty, from Russia or Mexico or New York or Appalachia, the violin appears in all of these milieux. Moreover, no matter the place, the sitter and photographer believe the violin itself is a totem of the culture the photograph reveals.

Julia Margaret Cameron, British (1815-1879), Joseph Joachim, albumen print, 1868



1460 West 29th Street
Cleveland, Ohio 44113