Gelatin silver print
Gift of the Family of Charles B. Phelps, Jr.Axel Bahnsen's graphic image Conscience demonstrates the influence of modernism on pictorial (or artistic) photography between the World Wars. In it, Bahnsen draws from surrealist sources such as Salvador Dali and Herbert Bayer, both of whom frequently utilized the eye-on-hand motif.Bahnsen's picture is almost heavy-handed in its presentation of the concept of the inner voice or self-examination. The hand is held up in a halting gesture, like a stop sign, suggesting caution on the part of the subject. The alert human eye itself as an all-seeing presence that stares back mercilessly at the viewer. Bahnsen affirms that our conscience is always close at hand, a strong force that cannot be ignored.The impact of Conscience relies greatly on Bahnsen's expertise as a professional photographer. He skillfully lit the hand so it functions primarily as a silhouette. He carefully superimposed the eye on the hand, making a seamless photomontage. And he printed the finished image at more than twice human scale, adding greatly to its haunting quality.This photograph is included in the current exhibition After the Photo-Secession: American Pictorial Photography, 1910-1955, on view in the Harrison Photography Gallery.