Image Dimensions: 16.1 x 23.6 | 20.7 x 29.6 cm Camera Work XXV (January 1909) Japan-tissue gravure
Support Dimensions: 20.9 x 30.1 cm Enfield 1887 watermarked laid paper secondary mount
Institutionally dated to 1907 but perhaps earlier, (1905 chlorobromide print in Princeton University Art Museum) The Bubble by Anne Brigman is one of the photographer’s best known early nude Symbolist works taken in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains.
With the focus being a young female model reaching out at left either launching or retrieving a floating “bubble”, the location itself reinforces the ephemeral and changing qualities of nature. In this case, like a soap bubble that can disappear at a moment’s notice, the melting snow overhead (the model kneels in a pool of water under an overhang) is actually doing just that: with a small stream of water falling just to the left of the model’s head onto a rock behind the bubble.
Melting snow and bursting bubbles aside, others looking for meaning in the use of glass globes or orbs often featured in photographs by early Pictorialist photographers such as Fred Holland Day and Clarence White have found evidence of the object doing a stand-in for the earth itself, or as a symbol of prophesy (divination) or of religious ideals.
“Gazing” globes, made from blown glass, have been around for centuries, and are still seen today-often mounted atop pedestals-where they are used in decorative landscape settings such as gardens. Hand-blown, clear glass fishing floats, the type most likely seen in this photograph by Brigman, were first manufactured in Norway around 1840.
One other intriguing idea, especially in relation to photographic achievement, points to the role of glass orbs being symbolic of mankind’s culminating progress in scientific exploration via optical glass manufacturing, which reached new heights in 1608. This was when polished and cut glass lenses were first used in refracting telescopes in the Netherlands that year, and even earlier, in 1595, when microscopes from Middelburg in the Dutch Republic were first recorded. (Wikipedia)