Johann Ludwig Belitski was a photographer born in Liegnitz in Silesia (now Legnica, Poland) about 1830. He died in Nordhausen, Germany, in 1902.
Belitski trained as a gilder and metal worker, but he played around with photography initially as an amateur. In 1851 he attempted to emulate Blanquardt-Évrard's calotype process, but he switched to wet plate collodion negatives in 1853.
It was his employer who suggested him to Minutoli, after Minutoli's earlier efforts to photograph the collection with daguerreotypes was less than successful. In 1853 Alexander von Minutoli engaged Belitski to make photographic reproductions on paper of textiles, glass, metalwork, woodcarvings and ceramics.
Between 1853 and 1855, 150 images were taken and published as tipped-in salted paper prints in the instructive tome Vorbilder für Handwerker und Fabrikanten aus den Sammlungen des Minutolischen Instituts zur Veredelung der Gewerbe und Befoerderung der Künste zu Liegnitz [Examples for Craftsmen and Fabricators from the Collections of the Minutoli Institute for the refinement of trade materials and the Advancement of the Arts in Liegnitz.]. This group represents one of the only surviving sets of photographs outside of institutional hands.
The photographs demonstrate Belitski's carefully controlled approach of arranging and illuminating like objects against a black backdrop to document their form and decoration. His innovative lighting techniques both ensured the utility of his photographs as didactic aids and imbued them with an entrancing directness.
Elegantly and unusually lit, the series resembles more modernist works like the Glass in Light study by Alexander Rodtschenko than the more simplistic William Henry Fox Talbot studies of glass and china. They have been compared to both. Often overlapping patterns of glass and other items, Belitski plays with spatial relationships.
Silber and Salz, the landmark book on early German photography, devotes an entire chapter to Belitski's work (pp.542-547). There are also descriptions in the Truthful Lens and A Higher Branch of Art. See: Dewitz, Silber and Salz, p.539.
Belitski won awards in Brussels and Amsterdam in 1855 and 1856, and exhibited work in Paris and Munich. But he withdrew from the project by 1856.
After traveling as a photographer in the St. Petersburg area (around 1856) he opened a Hamburg branch in Nordhausen, where he ran a portrait studio from 1862 to 1902.
Later Minutoli published seven folio-sized volumes with 663 plates in 1862, although none of these prints came from those later volumes.
Provenance: Alexander von Minutoli, a Prussian civil servant and collector, who established the Minutolisches Institute in Liegnitz to encourage an appreciation for decorative arts. Plate numbers in ink on the mount. His blindstamp is on the image.
Belitski's photographs are in the collections of the Victoria & Albert Museum, the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Rjiks Museum, the National Gallery of Canada, the St. Louis Museum of Art, the National Gallery of Australia, the Stadtmuseum, Munich, the Boston Museum of Fine Art, Houston Museum of Art and the Cincinnati Museum of Art, among others.
There are several books on Belitski's work. One of the best is in German and was published in 1992 by Taschenbuch and entitled "Frühe Photographie in Nordhausen: Ludwig Belitski 1830-1902. Prominenter Photograph und engagierter Bürger".
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