past and present tense by stephen voss



Mathew Brady, Edward Curtis, even the great Nadar all outpaced their fame. Their stories have a certain rhyme - restless ambition and remarkable talent leading to fame and fortune, then a slow decline that must have been imperceptible to them at the time.

North-facing skylights let through a silky soft light on the top floor of Brady’s studio in DC. For the photographer, this is light we turn our back to, studying how it falls onto our subject. I imagine Brady pacing through this shady alleyway, his wartime photos yet to be made.  Just another photographer in Washington, hustling to make it through sheer force of will.

Their fame and subsequent fall were not anything new— a world embraced the work, deified the creator, then simply moved on. Brady died poor in a run down tenement in New York, similarly for Curtis in Los Angeles. It took years to pass after their deaths for the work to be seen with fresh eyes, re-evaluated and presented anew for the magic it had always contained.

Photo: Mathew Brady's studio in Washington, DC

Stephen Voss