Beyond the World We Know: Abstraction in Photography

On View: November 22, 2019 - April 20, 2020
Release Date: August 27, 2019

Pasadena, CA—The Norton Simon Museum presents Beyond the World We Know: Abstraction in Photography, an intimate exhibition featuring innovative and experimental artworks by some of the 20th century’s most celebrated photographers, including Barbara Morgan, Frederick Sommer, Arthur Siegel, Minor White and Edward Weston. Seen together, the works on view demonstrate how abstraction as a nonrepresentational, visual language played a significant role in bending the expectations of the medium esteemed for its ability to record what the eye sees.

The photographs featured in Beyond the World We Know present a range of subjects transformed by varying degrees of abstraction. For example, Frederick Sommer produced small oil paintings on cellophane paper, which he then placed between sheets of glass. By means of an enlarger, he printed the images onto sensitized paper. His camera-less photographs are known as cliché-verres. Edmund Teske employed the Sabbatier technique—a process of chemical toning and solarization, in which the print is exposed to bright light during its development, introducing painterly elements and unusual spatial juxtapositions.

In other cases, artists employed cropping and novel framing devices, previsualizing the result. Framing the details of his subject tightly, Aaron Siskind captures the hieroglyphics of urban life—graffiti, sidewalk markings—creating photographic depictions that, in such extreme close-up, call to mind the gestural paintings of the Abstract Expressionists. Intricate patterns in nature and manmade objects stimulated Brett Weston’s keen interest in emphasizing photography’s tonal capabilities and dramatizing its contrast range. Whatever the stimulus, the subject is distanced from recognizable contexts. These strategies defamiliarize the principal object. As a result, viewers are encouraged to take in the image and see beyond the ostensible subject.

In their integration of the visible world and abstraction, the gelatin silver prints on display in Beyond the World We Know demonstrate that the simplest subjects can be evocative works of art when composition, texture, tone and light are handled by artists of great imagination and virtuosity.

Beyond the World We Know is organized by Curator Gloria Williams Sander. It is on view in the Museum’s small exhibition gallery on the main level from Friday, November 22, 2019 through Monday, April 20, 2020. Related events and programs can be found online at

Press Contacts

Leslie Denk
(626) 844-6900
[email protected]

Emma Jacobson-Sive
(323) 842-2064
[email protected]

Press Kit

Request Images

High-resolution images from the exhibition may be requested by selecting the images below.

Related Links

Learn more about the exhibition.

Images for the Press

Manuel Alvarez Bravo's 1960 gelatin silver print of Rouen Architecture

Manuel Alvarez Bravo (Mexican, 1902–2002)
Rouen Architecture (Rouen), 1960
Gelatin silver print
8 7/8 x 7 7/16 in. (22.5 x 18.9 cm)
Norton Simon Museum, Museum Purchase through the Florence V. Burden Foundation
© Archivo Manuel Álvarez Bravo, S.C

Walter Chappell's 1958 gelatin silver print of barnacles

Walter Chappell (American, 1925–2000)
Barnacles, Maine Coast, 1958
Gelatin silver print
9-1/2 x 7-1/2 in. (24.1 x 19.1 cm)
Norton Simon Museum, Gift of Mr. Shirley C. Burden, in memory of Flobelle Fairbanks Burden
© Walter Chappell Archive

Mati Maldre's gelatin silver print from 1971 of Nude Multiple Views

Mati Maldre (German, b. 1947)
Untitled (Nude Multiple Views), 1971
Gelatin silver print
7-1/8 x 6 in. (18.1 x 15.2 cm)
Norton Simon Museum, Museum Purchase through the Florence V. Burden Foundation
© Mati Maldre

Barbara Morgan's gelatin silver print from 1940 featuring an astract light shape

Barbara Morgan (American, 1900–1992)
Samadhi, 1940 (printed 1971)
Gelatin silver print
17 x 14-1/4 in. (43.2 x 36.2 cm)
Norton Simon Museum, Gift of the Artist
© Barbara Morgan, Barbara Morgan Archive

Arthur Siegel's gelatin silver print from 1967 featuring a white background with a pattern of blurry black dots

Arthur Siegel (American, 1913–1978)
Lucidagram #6837, 1967
Gelatin silver print
16-7/8 x 14 in. (42.9 x 35.6 cm)
Norton Simon Museum, Gift of the Artist
© Estate of Arthur Siegel

Edmund Teske's gelatin silver duotone solarized print from c. 1960 featuring dried roses

Edmund Teske (American, 1911–1996)
Untitled (Close-up of Dried Roses), c. 1960
Gelatin silver duotone solarized print
8-3/8 x 11 in. (21.3 x 27.9 cm)
Norton Simon Museum, Gift of the Artist
© Edmund Teske Archives—Laurence Bump/Nils Vidstand, 2019

Edward Weston's gelatin silver print from 1931 of an eroded piece of wood

Edward Weston (American, 1886–1958)
Eroded Plank from Barley Sifter, 1931
Gelatin silver print, ed. 4/50
9-1/2 x 7-1/2 in. (24.1 x 19.1 cm)
Norton Simon Museum, Gift of Mr. Shirley C. Burden, in memory of Flobelle Fairbanks Burden
© 1981 Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents

Minor White's gelatin silver print from 1960 featuring an abstract form

Minor White (American, 1908–1976)
Untitled (Letchworth State Park, New York), 1960
Gelatin silver print
7-1/16 x 9-1/8 in. (17.9 x 23.2 cm)
Norton Simon Museum, Gift of Mr. Shirley C. Burden, in memory of Flobelle Fairbanks Burden
Reproduced with permission of The Minor White Archive, Princeton University Art Museum. © Trustees of Princeton University.

0 items selected

About the Norton Simon Museum

The Norton Simon Museum is known around the world as one of the most remarkable private art collections ever assembled. Over a 30-year period, industrialist Norton Simon (1907–1993) amassed an astonishing collection of European art from the Renaissance to the 20th century, and a stellar collection of South and Southeast Asian art spanning 2,000 years. Modern and Contemporary Art from Europe and the United States, acquired by the former Pasadena Art Museum, also occupies an important place in the Museum’s collections. The Museum houses more than 12,000 objects, roughly 1,000 of which are on view in the galleries and gardens.

Location: The Norton Simon Museum is located at 411 W. Colorado Blvd. at Orange Grove Boulevard in Pasadena, Calif., at the intersection of the Foothill (210) and Ventura (134) freeways. For general Museum information, please call (626) 449-6840 or visit Hours: The Museum is open Thursday through Monday, 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. (Friday and Saturday to 7 p.m.).  It is closed on Tuesday and Wednesday. Admission: General admission is $20 for adults and $15 for seniors. Members, students with I.D., and patrons age 18 and under are admitted free of charge. The first Friday of the month from 4 to 7 p.m. is free to all. The Museum is wheelchair accessible. Parking: Parking is free but limited, and no reservations are necessary. Public Transportation: Pasadena Transit stops directly in front of the Museum. Please visit for schedules. The MTA bus line #180/181 stops in front of the Museum. The Memorial Park Station on the MTA Gold Line, the closest Metro Rail station to the Museum, is located at 125 E. Holly St. at Arroyo Parkway. Please visit for schedules. Planning your Visit: For up-to-date information on our guidelines and protocols, please visit

instagram new logo  @nortonsimon

Twitter   @nortonsimon

FB   /nortonsimonmuseum