National Gallery of Art acquires work by Vera Lutter

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National Gallery of Art acquires work by Vera Lutter
Vera Lutter, Radio Telescope, Effelsberg 111, September 2, 2013, 2013. Gelatin silver print. Image: 89 1/4 x 56 in. National Gallery of Art, Washington. Gift of Sharyn and Bruce Charnas 2022.152.1

WASHINGTON, DC.- For the past 30 years, Vera Lutter (b. 1960) has explored the most elemental aspects of photography: the action of light on photosensitive materials and the ability to capture a moment in time. The National Gallery of Art has recently acquired Radio Telescope, Effelsberg 111, September 2, 2013 (2013) as a gift from Sharyn and Bruce Charnas. In this work Lutter’s fascination with time is apparent in both her subject and her process.

In 2013 Lutter traveled to Germany to photograph the Effelsberg telescope, one of the largest radio telescopes in the world. She used a camera obscura, the oldest type of camera known to humankind, in which a room or a box is darkened save for one small hole or lens at one side through which an image is projected onto the opposite wall. She spent more than a month photographing the telescope, and she became intrigued by the parallels between her camera obscura and the telescope. Both transform electromagnetic waves—radio waves for the telescope and light waves for her camera obscura—into pictures, and both explore and expand our conceptions of time—the telescope reaching into the past to capture radio waves emitted hundreds of light years earlier and the camera obscura freezing several hours of 21st-century time into a single image. Both also create pictures that transform our understanding of the world around us.

Lutter’s resulting tonally reversed photograph depicts the massive telescope as a strangely delicate object. In Radio Telescope, Effelsberg 111, September 2, 2013 the dish is dematerialized, rendered almost transparent, and metamorphosed into an otherworldly flower turning toward the sun. The dish is crowned by a mysterious glowing halo, as if it is pulsating with the energy it captures. With compelling symmetry, Lutter reaches into photography’s past using an ancient type of camera to reveal more about the capabilities and wonders of the present.

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