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Rare images echo a distant time About 300 19th-century photographs from Hallmark Collection included in special exhibition.

The Nelson’s Hallmark Photographic Collection gets star billing with the opening of the Bloch Building.

Almost 300 images from the 6,500-piece collection will be displayed in the inaugural special exhibition, “Developing Greatness: The Origins of American Photography, 1839-1885.”

“It’s our big grand survey of the highlights of this major part of the collection,” said Keith Davis, the museum’s curator of photography.

“Hundreds of our most rare and significant works are from this period, and the best of them will be on view.

“From a historical viewpoint, this is the least-known territory. It goes from the very first days of photography, the fall of 1839, up to the mid-1880s, when the technology changes rapidly, and the social meaning of photography changes significantly.”

Highlights will include daguerreotypes, Civil War photographs and Western landscapes.

The museum acquired the Hallmark Photographic Collection, considered one of the best in the country, in December 2005.

Part of it was a gift from Hallmark Cards Inc. The museum purchased the rest with funds from the Greater Kansas City Community Foundation. It has an estimated value of $65 million.

For the building’s opening, Davis has organized two more photography shows. One is an exhibit of works by Harry Callahan, the first photographer to enter the Hallmark Collection. The other is a survey of four dozen photographs from the collection, including works by 20th-century American photography giants Alfred Stieglitz, Paul Strand, Walker Evans and Dorothea Lange.

These displays will appear in the Bloch Building’s 3,000 square feet of gallery space dedicated to photography, where Davis will regularly present rotating displays from the collection and thematic exhibitions.

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