In 2007, Stephen Wirtz Gallery presented A Narrative History of the Light Bulb, a series of photographs by Catherine Wagner.
While in residence at the Baltimore Museum of Industry, Catherine Wagner was given access to their 50,000+ collection of historic light bulbs, one of the premier collections of vintage and antique light bulbs in the United States, with lights dating from the early 19th century. The resulting series of photographs titled A Narrative History of the Light Bulb embodies both sculptural installation and photography. Wagner creates arrangements of bulbs that she then photographs with an 8 by 10 view camera in order to record the glass enclosures and the delicate filaments in stunning detail. Wagner’s work has long been noted for its investigation of the dissemination of knowledge and the construction of culture and these new works follow in her trajectory of providing access to the close scrutiny of scientific objects.
These works are records of historical light bulb classification as well as narrative landscapes of metaphor rich objects that borrow from the history of the still life. With a keen eye toward Morandi, Wagner utilizes similar strategies of grouping familiar objects in beautiful, compelling installations. Some are based on scientific indexes, such as Early Tungsten or Carbon Filaments 1900- 1910; others are constructed more lyrically, with sensitivity to the implied stories in the groupings of bulbs. Wagner employs an intuitive approach, cataloging them by color, form, or aesthetic with examples that include an installation of varying blue bulbs entitled, Homage to Yves Klein, and the architecturally based collection entitled Utopia, which invokes ideal cityscapes. Green Energy involves a double entendre: the topical need for our technology to become more sustainable, and also a metaphor our landscape.
Wagner focus on the invention and history of the light bulb and its place as a cultural indicator follows from her long-term interest in the phenomenon of light as evidenced by past projects such as Cross Sections, Pomegranate Wall (San Jose Museum of Art, 2001,) the installation of Home and Other Stories (a constructed light and photographic installation at LACMA, 1993,) as well as her over thirty year career in photography, a medium inherently dependent on light.