1920s photographer ahead of his time

May 22, 2014 | 11 a.m.

Olson Galley displays George Poundstone's old-school photoshop techniques

News | Michael Urch


The Desert Flower, a photography manipulated by George Poundstone combines two pictures, using pre-photo editing software methods. | Photo for The Clarion by Kristine Schmidt

In 1979, widow Ethel Poundstone gifted the photographic estate of George C. Poundstone to Bethel University. Chosen for its Christian values and established art program, this gift was placed in Bethel’s permanent collection.

Now, 35 years later, the 28 exhibition prints, 139 proofs and work prints, 3,473 negatives, 664 autochromes, seven black-and-white 16-millimeter films and various writings that made up his estate have been taken out of storage.

Despite being a practicing dentist, Poundstone demonstrated a remarkable ability to create an extensive body of work. He traveled to locations in Europe, Asia, the Middle East and the United States and kept travel journals meticulously documenting his photographs.
Art professor Michelle Westmark and student Grace Krussow, funded by the Edgren scholarship, spent last summer creating digital copies of the work.

“My role was first to help in the process of researching, organizing and photographing the collection, then to put those things online for other scholars and students to have access,” Krussow said.

“In order to be good stewards of Poundstone’s legacy, we believed it should be accessible to the public as a digital archive through Bethel University’s online library database,” Westmark said.

Various pieces of work are now displayed in the Olson gallery in the exhibit “Dr. George C. Poundstone: The Elements of a Picture.” Most notable in the exhibit are the autochromes, the 16-millimeter film and a step-by-step display of Poundstone’s rudimentary photoshop.

“Autochromes are extremely rare, partly because they are extremely fragile and partly because they were expensive to make,” Westmark said. “Many world-renowned museums only have a handful of these in their collection, and Bethel has over 600.”

“[The 16-millimeter film] is playing in the exhibition right now on the flat screen,” art professor Wayne Roosa said. “I’d love to find out what someone who understands the culture would see.”

Although Poundstone generally took excellent notes, the location of the film is not well documented, and it is not clear where they were taken.

Poundstone was a pictorialist photographer, part of a movement focused on establishing photography as a legitimate art. At the time, many considered photography only as a method of objectively capturing reality. Pictorialists believed that photography did not have to merely document reality, but could also be used to create images from imagination, much like a landscape painter.

Junior Fletcher Warren’s favorite photograph is an excellent example of pictorialism. “The Desert Flower” is actually a combination of two pictures, where a woman is taken from one picture and inserted in the background of another picture.

“He’s doing pre-photo shop photoshop techniques where he is cutting and stitching images together to come up with something that is both photographic and fake,” Warren said. “It never happened.”

Warren worked in the library last summer and helped Krussow with some of the documentation as they digitized Poundstone’s work.

“His passion for learning was evident in all that he did, and that was something that really inspired me,” Krussow said. “It is incredible that Bethel owns such a unique and complete body of work like this. It’s definitely worth checking out.”


Want to see it for yourself? “Dr. George C. Poundstone: The Elements of a Picture” will be featured in the Olson gallery in the CLC until May 24.


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