In the mid-twentieth century, Philip Clarkson Elliott and his wife, Virginia Cuthbert, were celebrated artists in Buffalo, New York. Cuthbert was well-known as a painter and Elliott received acclaim for his photography and painting. As active members of the arts community, the impact of Elliott and Cuthbert on the artistic culture of the region resonated for decades. Their work continues to be celebrated in Buffalo and beyond.
In February of 2020, a collection of hundreds of photographic negatives by Elliot was rediscovered at the Burchfield Penney Art Center Archives. Donated by Cuthbert in 1985, these rare negatives show decades of Elliott and Cuthbert’s day-to-day life together in a detail never witnessed by others. In these intimate and thoughtful images, we can experience fragments of the life of two beloved artists in the twentieth century as never before.
…And soon, never again. Many of the original negatives are nitrate and cellulose acetate—materials that are fragile and inherently unstable. Because of this, the Archivist at the Burchfield Penney Art Center has spent the past year digitizing the images using high resolution negative scanners. The work on this project is still in progress, prioritizing the digitization of the negatives which are most rapidly degrading.
This exhibition features selections from the first of twelve folders of Elliott’s negatives. The photographic negatives span Elliott and Cuthbert’s entire lives together in a non-linear sequence, where their young married life is interspersed with decades of their married life. The images included here have been grouped to allow for a more chronologically linear presentation.
All images included in this exhibition were taken by Philip Elliott, or occasionally, Virginia Cuthbert.
Some images show extensive decomposing, both of the chemical composition as well as the physical medium. These decomposing images have been included because the aesthetics of the images shine through despite the degradation. Regardless of the condition, all of these images remind us that even what remains can only offer hints of what has been lost.