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TO MAY 28
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On my first and only visit to the Canadian Rockies, I walked on the Athabasca Glacier—a massive ice floe located not far from a highway that runs through Banff National Park. I excitedly took numerous photographs, only to discover upon my return home that the reflectivity of the ice had played havoc with my camera’s preprogrammed settings, leaving every image overexposed. I can only imagine the challenges faced by Charles Doolittle Walcott (1850–1927), a geologist who traveled regularly to the Canadian Rockies, where he discovered the fossil-rich Burgess Shale formation and made a series of panoramic photographs of the peaks, rivers, and glaciers of his gorgeous surroundings. (Mary Vaux Walcott and Guide at the Head of Saskatchewan River Valley is pictured.) Technology being what it was, Walcott had to carry glass plates into the field, where he would make a few test exposures, send them back for developing by his colleagues at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, and wait for telegraphed advice on camera settings before heading deeper into the wilderness. Though Walcott’s photographs were made for scientific rather than artistic purposes—indeed, many of the 15 black-and-white images now on display at the Embassy of Canada feature Walcott’s handwritten notations—they are stunning nonetheless, with alternately hazy and crisp portrayals of jagged peaks, floating ice, and forested slopes. Walcott’s photographs are notable for their extreme horizontal dimensions, which portray the region’s scenic panoramas with the flair they deserve. The exhibition’s only shortcoming is its lack of explanation of the methods Walcott used to produce such wide-angle sweeps from such an ordinary-sized camera. The show is on view from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, to Friday, May 28, at the Embassy of Canada, 501 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. Free. (202) 448-6255. (Louis Jacobson)