Among the Wonders of the Dells explores the emergence and transformation of the Wisconsin Dells into what is today the single-most important tourist destination in Wisconsin. The exhibition and its 192-page catalog will include photographs by LeRoy Gates, the first photographer of the Dells, H.H. Bennett, the great nineteenth-century photographer touted as “the man who made the Wisconsin Dells famous,” Oliver Reese, John A. Trumble, who documented the Dells’ postwar tourist boom in the twentieth century, Dennis Darmek, and three contemporary Wisconsin photographers commissioned by MOWA to spend a year photographing the Dells from their unique perspectives. The work of Tom Jones, Associate Professor of Photography at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and member of the Ho-Chunk nation, flips the script of Native Americans being represented through the outsider’s lens and investigates contemporary representations of native culture in the Dells. Working out of H.H. Bennett’s historic studio, Kevin J. Miyazaki, whose photographs often appear in the New York Times, has been taking portraits of tourists, townsfolk, and overseas students working in the Dells on J-1 visas. Mark Brautigam’s work presents lush landscape views of the natural and artificial aspects of the Dells.
The exhibition will be accompanied by a catalogue where the photographs will be contextualized in essays by celebrated Wisconsin historian John Gurda and MOWA Associate Curator of Contemporary Art J Tyler Friedman. The uniqueness of the Dells encompasses a range of themes to be discussed in the essays: shifts in leisure practices and family vacations since the nineteenth century, the uneasy assimilation of the Ho-Chunk tribe with early settlers and contemporary tourists, and the Dells’ as a subject of both commercial and artistic photography.
The exhibition will comprise new and never-before-seen photographs. The catalog essays will also reflect new archival research undertaken at the Wisconsin Historical Society and in the records of the Wisconsin Department of Tourism and the Wisconsin Dells Visitor and Convention Bureau.
Image: Mark Brautigam, Mt. Olympus, Digital photograph, 2018