Posts Tagged ‘American art

25
Sep
22

Exhibition: ‘American Silence: The Photographs of Robert Adams’ at the National Gallery of Art, Washington

Exhibition dates: 29th May – 2nd October 2022

Curator: Sarah Greenough, senior curator and head of the department of photographs, National Gallery of Art

 

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Summer, Early Morning, Immigrant Cemetery, North of Bethune, Colorado' 1965

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Summer, Early Morning, Immigrant Cemetery, North of Bethune, Colorado
1965
Gelatin silver print
Image: 10.4 x 15.2 cm (4 1/8 x 6 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Pepita Milmore Memorial Fund and Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

 

The quiet of the great beyond

With gratitude, I admire the photographs of Robert Adams. I admire their perspicuous (“clear, lucid”, able to be seen through) and perspicacious (“keen, astute,” able to see through) nature.

They imbibe (“absorb, assimilate,” ideas or knowledge) in us “the wonder and fragility of the American landscape, its inherent beauty, and the inadequacy of our response to it… [they] capture the sense of peace and harmony that the beauty of nature can instill in us – “the silence of light,” as he calls it… [and they] question our silent complicity in the desecration of that beauty by consumerism, industrialisation, and lack of environmental stewardship… While these photographs lament the ravages that have been inflicted on the land, they also pay homage to what remains.”

Like so many photographers of the American landscape, Adams’ debt to the vision of Walker Evans can be seen in his early work, in images such as Movie Theater, Otis, Colorado (1965, below) and Catholic Church, Summer, Ramah, Colorado (1965, below) – but even in images such as Wheat Stubble, South of Thurman, Colorado (1965, below) we can begin to see the beginnings of Adams personal artistic signature, the quiet of “the great beyond” (both physically and spiritually).

In modernist photographs that step off from Walker Evans’ legacy, Adams quiet, still photographs require of the viewer contemplation and reflection… reflection on the isolation of tract housing seemingly dropped into the vast American landscape. In these photographs (such as the two photographs Newly Occupied Tract Houses, Colorado Springs, 1968 below) Adams’ use of near/far is exemplary, with the nearness of the new excavation, the new scarring of the earth, contrasting with the sublime majesty of the mountains beyond. Other more personal psychological scarring can be seen in the two photographs Colorado Springs (1968-1971, below) where single, isolated, anonymous human beings are occluded in silhouette or shadow, damned by the hot sun.

In other photographs houses become like fossilised dinosaur skeletons, their graves marked by ironic street names such as Darwin Pl. (Frame for a Tract House, Colorado Springs, 1969 below), or multiply across the landscape, breeding like some genetically identical sequence (Pikes Peak Park, Colorado Springs, 1969, below). Even petrol stations blare out the name “Frontier” as though to irrevocably define that here we live on the edge of nowhere. And so it goes in Adams’ work… isolated people living in a barren landscape being colonised and inhabited without much thought for the beauty or the destruction of the landscape.

From the mid-1970s onwards, Adams’ landscape photographs begin to eschew all but the smallest pointers to human habitation, but this makes these human marks on the landscape all the more intrusive because of it. For example, in the photograph of the vast landscape South of the Rocky Flats Nuclear Weapons Plant, Jefferson County, Colorado (1976, below) the only markings of human activity are the tyre marks in the foreground and the telegraph poles, road and cars at far right… and then the title hits you with a double-whammy, “Rocky Flats Nuclear Weapons Plant”, not present in the photograph but present in our consciousness (of the landscape). Even less evidence of human existence is signalled in the photograph Missouri River, Clay County, South Dakota (1977, below), but then we notice at bottom left a discarded tin can, just a discarded tin can, but this one tin can says so much about our use and abuse of our only habitable planet, earth.

In image after image, roads scar the landscape, planes fly overhead, industry and housing colonise the sublime, and human beings hug and are alienated amongst concrete jungles and car parks. New development erodes the earth leaving behind the detritus of human existence. Old growth trees are slaughtered in clearcut operations in which every tree has been cut down and removed. A dead albatross rots on an expanse of beach (The Sea Beach, Albatross, 2015 below) while in the distance the photographer picks out 4 ghosts of human beings (The Sea Beach, 2015 below).

Adams’ photographic vision is extra ordinary and I cannot fault his individual photographs. I become engrossed in them. I breathe their atmosphere. He has a resolution, both in terms of large format aesthetic, the aesthetic of beauty and of using materials, light and composition… that seems exactly right. He possesses that superlative skill of few great photographers, and by that I mean: sometimes he has true compassion** / parallel to a religious compassion, but not based on something higher / just perfect human. In some of his photographs (such as East from Flagstaff Mountain, Boulder County, Colorado 1975, below) he possesses real forgiveness, in others there is the perfection of cruel, the perfection of de/composition.

** achieved by Arbus, Atget and sometimes by Clift, Gowin.

And then, each image holds small clues vital to the overall conversation that is the accumulation of his work and it is in their collective accumulation of meaning that Adams’ photographs grow and build to shatter not just the American silence on environmental issues, but the deafening silence of the whole industrialised world. In their holistic nature, Adams’ body of work becomes punctum and because of this his work produces other “things”, things as great as anything the French literary theorist, essayist, philosopher, critic, and semiotician Roland Barthes wrote about. As in Barthes’ seminal work Camera Lucida, Adams’ work reminds us that the “photograph is evidence of ‘what has ceased to be’. Instead of making reality solid, it reminds us of the world’s ever changing nature.”1

Human beings can never leave anything as they find it, they always have to possess and change whatever they see in a form of desecration (the action of damaging or showing no respect toward something holy or very much respected). Except human beings do not respect the only place that have to live on, this earth. When will it change?

As Alain de Botton observes on the importance of the sublime places to the human psyche,

“If the world is unfair or beyond our understanding, sublime places suggest it is not surprising things should be thus. We are the playthings of the forces that laid out the oceans and chiselled the mountains. Sublime places acknowledge limitations that we might otherwise encounter with anxiety or anger in the ordinary flow of events. It is not just nature that defies us. Human life is as overwhelming, but it is the vast spaces of nature that perhaps provide us with the finest, the most respectful reminder of all that exceeds us. If we spend time with them, they may help us to accept more graciously the great unfathomable events that molest our lives and will inevitably return us to dust.”2

.
We loose these places at our peril and the peril of the entire human race.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

  1. Anonymous. “Roland Barthes,” on the Wikipedia website Nd [Online] Cited 23/09/2022
  2. Alain de Botton. The Art of Travel. London: Penguin, 2002, pp. 178-179.

.
Many thankx to the National Gallery of Art for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Wheat Stubble, South of Thurman, Colorado' 1965, printed 1988

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Wheat Stubble, South of Thurman, Colorado
1965, printed 1988
Gelatin silver print
Image: 22.9 x 27.9cm (9 x 11 in.)
Collection of Jeffrey Fraenkel and Alan Mark
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

 

For 50 years, Robert Adams (b. 1937) has made compelling, provocative, and highly influential photographs that show us the wonder and fragility of the American landscape, its inherent beauty, and the inadequacy of our response to it. This exhibition explores the reverential way he looks at the world around him and the almost palpable silence of his work.

Many of these photographs of the American West capture the sense of peace and harmony that the beauty of nature can instill in us – “the silence of light,” as he calls it, that he sees on the prairie, in the woods, and by the ocean. Other pictures question our silent complicity in the desecration of that beauty by consumerism, industrialisation, and lack of environmental stewardship. Divided into three sections – The Gift, Our Response, and Tenancy – the exhibition features some 175 works from the artist’s most important projects and includes pictures of suburban sprawl, strip malls, highways, homes, and stores, as well as rivers, skies, the prairie, and the ocean.

While these photographs lament the ravages that have been inflicted on the land, they also pay homage to what remains.

 

 

“Robert Adams’s photographs often seem to demand that viewers do a double-take. Seemingly ordinary subjects like tree stumps, tract housing or the moon seen from a parking lot “require very careful looking and careful consideration,” says curator Sarah Greenough, before they reveal the photographer’s deeply personal visions of nature – and, sometimes, his despair at what humans have done with it.”

.
Peter Saenger. “Robert Adams Takes Photos That Face Facts,” on The Wall Street Journal website May 13, 2022 [Online] Cited 23/06/2022

 

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Movie Theater, Otis, Colorado' 1965, printed c. 1977

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Movie Theater, Otis, Colorado
1965, printed c. 1977
Gelatin silver print
Image: 16.3 x 20.3cm (6 7/16 x 8 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Pepita Milmore Memorial Fund and Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Catholic Church, Winter, Ramah, Colorado' 1965, printed 1982

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Catholic Church, Winter, Ramah, Colorado
1965, printed 1982
Gelatin silver print
Image: 22.3 x 16.4cm (8 3/4 x 6 7/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Pepita Milmore Memorial Fund and Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Catholic Church, Summer, Ramah, Colorado' 1965, printed 1981

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Catholic Church, Summer, Ramah, Colorado
1965, printed 1981
Gelatin silver print
Image: 21.5 x 16.4cm (8 7/16 x 6 7/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Pepita Milmore Memorial Fund and Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Store, Elizabeth, Colorado' 1965, printed 1988

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Store, Elizabeth, Colorado
1965, printed 1988
Gelatin silver print
Image: 26.9 x 22.8cm (10 9/16 x 9 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Pepita Milmore Memorial Fund and Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Arriba, Colorado' 1966, printed 1981

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Arriba, Colorado
1966, printed 1981
Gelatin silver print
Image: 28.4 x 22.7cm (11 3/16 x 8 15/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Pepita Milmore Memorial Fund and Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Schoolyard, Ramah, Colorado' 1968

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Schoolyard, Ramah, Colorado
1968
Gelatin silver print
Image: 15.2 x 15.2 cm (6 x 6 in.)
Private collection, San Francisco
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Newly Occupied Tract Houses, Colorado Springs' 1968

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Newly Occupied Tract Houses, Colorado Springs
1968
Gelatin silver print
Image: 12.7 x 13.3cm (5 x 5 1/4 in.)
Private collection, San Francisco
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'New Tract Housing, Colorado Springs' 1968, printed 1981

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
New Tract Housing, Colorado Springs
1968, printed 1981
Gelatin silver print
Image: 14.4 x 15cm (5 11/16 x 5 7/8 in.)
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Purchased with the Alice Newton Osborn Fund, 1982
Courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum of Art
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Colorado Springs' 1968, printed 1983

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Colorado Springs
1968, printed 1983
Gelatin silver print
Image: 15.2 x 15.2cm (6 x 6 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Mary and Dan Solomon and Patrons’ Permanent Fund
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Colorado Springs' 1968-1971

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Colorado Springs
1968-1971
Gelatin silver print
Image: 15.2 x 15.2cm (6 x 6 in.)
Private collection, San Francisco
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Alameda Avenue, Denver' 1968-1971

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Alameda Avenue, Denver
1968-1971
Gelatin silver print
Image: 15.2 x 15.2cm (6 x 6 in.)
Private collection, San Francisco
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Northeast of Keota, Colorado' 1969, printed 1981

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Northeast of Keota, Colorado
1969, printed 1981
Gelatin silver print
Image: 39.2 x 47.8cm (15 7/16 x 18 13/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Pepita Milmore Memorial Fund and Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Frame for a Tract House, Colorado Springs' 1969, printed 1984

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Frame for a Tract House, Colorado Springs
1969, printed 1984
Gelatin silver print
Image: 15.1 x 15cm (5 15/16 x 5 7/8 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Mary and David Robinson
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Basement for a Tract House, Colorado Springs' 1969

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Basement for a Tract House, Colorado Springs
1969
Gelatin silver print
Image: 26.6 x 27.6cm (10 1/2 x 10 7/8 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Colorado Springs' 1969

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Colorado Springs
1969
Gelatin silver print
Image: 15.6 x 15.2cm (6 1/8 x 6 in.)
Private collection, San Francisco
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Pikes Peak Park, Colorado Springs' 1969

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Pikes Peak Park, Colorado Springs
1969
Gelatin silver print
Image: 15.1 x 15.2cm (5 15/16 x 6 in.)
Yale University Art Gallery, Purchased with a gift from Saundra B. Lane, a grant from the Trellis Fund, and the Janet and Simeon Braguin Fund
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'New Housing, Colorado Springs' 1969, printed 2005

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
New Housing, Colorado Springs
1969, printed 2005
Gelatin silver print
Image: 17.5 x 15.1cm (6 7/8 x 5 15/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Pepita Milmore Memorial Fund and Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Pikes Peak, Colorado Springs' 1969

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Pikes Peak, Colorado Springs
1969
Gelatin silver print
Image: 14 x 14.9cm (5 1/2 x 5 7/8 in.)
Private collection, San Francisco
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

 

For 50 years, Robert Adams (b. 1937) has made compelling, provocative, and highly influential photographs that show the wonder and fragility of the American landscape, its inherent beauty, and the inadequacy of our response to it. American Silence: The Photographs of Robert Adams celebrates the art of this seminal American photographer and explores the reverential way he looks at the world around him and the almost palpable silence of his work. Organised in cooperation with the artist, the exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalog. American Silence: The Photographs of Robert Adams is on view from May 29 through October 2, 2022, in the West Building of the National Gallery of Art.

Capturing the sense of peace and harmony created through what Adams calls “the silence of light” that can be seen on the prairie, in the woods, and by the ocean, American Silence features some 175 pictures from 1965 to 2015. Other images on view question our moral silence to the desecration of that beauty by consumerism, industrialisation, and lack of environmental stewardship. Divided into three sections – The Gift, Our Response, and Tenancy – the exhibition includes works from not only the artist’s most important projects but also lesser-known ones that depict suburban sprawl, strip malls, highways, homes, and stores, as well as rivers, skies, the prairie, and the ocean. While these photographs lament the ravages that have been inflicted on the land, they also pay homage to what remains.

“The photographs in this exhibition encourage us to experience the sense of silence that the beauty of nature can inspire while asking us to question our own silent complicity in the face of its desecration,” said Kaywin Feldman, director of the National Gallery of Art. “We are deeply grateful to Robert Adams and his wife, Kerstin, for their steadfast commitment to this endeavour and for their many donations to the National Gallery. I would like to extend our thanks to the Trellis Fund, Jane P. Watkins, The Shared Earth Foundation, Randi and Bob Fisher, Wes and Kate Mitchell, Nion McEvoy, Greg and Aline Gooding, and the James D. and Kathryn K. Steele Fund for Photography whose generous support has made this exhibition possible as well as to all our lenders for their willingness to share their treasured works of art with our public.”

 

About the exhibition

The exhibition begins with The Gift, which presents selected works that reveal the silence, beauty, peace, and spiritual harmony found in the landscape itself. Spanning three decades, this section includes photographs from Prairie (1978), Perfect Times, Perfect Places (1988), Listening to the River (1994), Pine Valley (2005), and This Day (2011). These pictures demonstrate the artist’s exceptional ability to find the sublime in the vast vistas and quiet, often overlooked, corners of the sparse and fragile American West, particularly in Colorado and Oregon, two areas of the country that Adams knows intimately. Infused with a deep understanding of the way light articulates forms, these photographs illuminate the natural world and demonstrate how Adams seeks to illustrate, in his own words, “a quiet so absolute that it allows one to begin again, to love the future.”

The largest section of the exhibition, Our Response examines how Americans have dealt with both the potential and the vulnerability of the West. Divided into six thematic subjects arranged chronologically, this section begins with “Early Hispanic and Plains Communities,” including work from some of the artist’s earliest publications: White Churches of the Plains (1970), The Architecture and Art of Early Hispanic Colorado (1974), and Prairie (1978). These pictures portray the respectful nature of older settlements in the West and acknowledge the importance of the gravel roads, farmhouses, furrowed fields, stores, and churches. They also demonstrate how early settlers attempted to achieve a unity with nature, rather than dominate over it.

“Our Imprint on the Land” and “A New West” feature works from seminal early publications by Adams: The New West: Landscapes along the Colorado Front Range (1974), denver: A Photographic Survey of the Metropolitan Area (1977), From the Missouri West (1980), and What We Bought: The New World, Scenes from the Denver Metropolitan Area, 1970-1974 (1995). “Our Imprint on the Land” includes pictures made along the Missouri River around the time of the 1976 bicentennial of the United States, a moment of national reflection on the past and assessment of the present. The photographs in “A New West” address the construction of a new kind of American environment. Dominated by cars, highways, cheaply fabricated homes, and commercial developments, these pictures emphasise the lack of community and the great isolation that grew in these new suburban communities.

“Our Lives and Our Children” depicts the area near Rocky Flats, a nuclear weapons plant northwest of Denver, where Adams photographed the simple dignity of everyday people to illustrate what would be lost in a nuclear disaster. Our Response ends with “Southern California” and “A Mythic Forest,” drawing works from two of his sharpest critiques: Los Angeles Spring (1986), depicting the destruction of the fragile landscape around Los Angeles in the early 1980s, and Turning Back: A Photographic Journal of Re-exploration (2005), illustrating the American timber industry’s exploitation of the North­west forests.

American Silence concludes with a selection of works from one of the artist’s recent books, Tenancy: Between the River and the Sea; The Nehalem Spit, the Coast of Oregon (2017). Divided into three parts, this series of photographs was made between 2013 and 2015 along a two-mile promontory on the Oregon coast, the Nehalem Spit. The first examines the eastern edge of the spit where massive tree stumps washed up on the shore reveal the brutality of the clearcutting done farther up the Nehalem River. The second part looks at the spit itself, a sanctuary of small trees, meadows, and dunes resting near a large geologic fault, and the third depicts the ever-changing beauty and wonder of the ocean to the west, as well as the people who seek “to escape illusion and to be reconciled,” as Adams noted. Tenancy illustrates his belief that we are only temporary occupants of the land that nourishes and sustains us, and it reveals the strength of his convictions, his deep spirituality, and the eloquent power of his vision.

 

Exhibition Catalog

Published by the National Gallery of Art and Aperture, New York, American Silence: The Photographs of Robert Adams traces the evolution of his work, highlighting the importance of faith to his art and – through his elegant visual reckonings – how “what was” has become “what is.” It is richly illustrated, with over 200 compelling photographs that explore the profound questions of our responsibility to the land and the moral dilemmas of progress. This extensive 332-page monograph includes award-winning curator Sarah Greenough’s in-depth examination of the evolution of his art as well as personal reflections by the celebrated nonfiction author Terry Tempest Williams and writings by Adams himself, along with a timeline of the artist’s life.

Press release from the National Gallery of Art, Washington

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Genoa, Colorado' 1970

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Genoa, Colorado
1970
Gelatin silver print
Image: 19.1 x 19.1cm (7 1/2 x 7 1/2 in.)
Private collection, San Francisco
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Boys in a Pickup, Simla, Colorado' 1970, printed 1991

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Boys in a Pickup, Simla, Colorado
1970, printed 1991
Gelatin silver print
Image: 15.1 x 14.2cm (5 15/16 x 5 9/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Pepita Milmore Memorial Fund and Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Lakewood, Colorado' 1970, printed 1981

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Lakewood, Colorado
1970, printed 1981
Gelatin silver print
Image: 15.1 x 15cm (5 15/16 x 5 7/8 in.)
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Purchased with the Alice Newton Osborn Fund, 1982
Courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum of Art
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Walking to a Shopping Center, North Edge of Denver' 1970-1974

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Walking to a Shopping Center, North Edge of Denver
1970-1974
Gelatin silver print
Image: 15.1 x 19.2cm (5 15/16 x 7 9/16 in.)
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Purchased with the Alice Newton Osborn Fund, 1982
Courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum of Art
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Sandstone Grave Marker, Walsenburg, Colorado' 1972

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Sandstone Grave Marker, Walsenburg, Colorado
1972
Gelatin silver print
Image: 15.2 x 15.2cm (6 x 6 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Pepita Milmore Memorial Fund and Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Clarkville, Colorado' 1972

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Clarkville, Colorado
1972
Gelatin silver print
Image: 18.4 x 16.5cm (7 1/4 x 6 1/2 in.)
Private collection, San Francisco
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'North of Keota, Colorado' 1973

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
North of Keota, Colorado
1973
Gelatin silver print
Image: 15.2 x 19cm (6 x 7 1/2 in.)
Private collection, San Francisco
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Longmont, Colorado' 1973, printed 1988

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Longmont, Colorado
1973, printed 1988
Gelatin silver print
Image: 15.1 x 19.3cm (5 15/16 x 7 5/8 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Pepita Milmore Memorial Fund and Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Tract House, Longmont, Colorado' 1973

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Tract House, Longmont, Colorado
1973
Gelatin silver print
Image: 15.6 x 19.4cm (6 1/8 x 7 5/8 in.)
Collection of Frish Brandt and August Fischer
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Longmont, Colorado' 1973, printed 1981

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Longmont, Colorado
1973, printed 1981
Gelatin silver print
Image: 15.2 x 19.4cm (6 x 7 5/8 in.)
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Purchased with the Alice Newton Osborn Fund, 1982
Courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum of Art
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Lakewood, Colorado' 1973-1974, printed 2008

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Lakewood, Colorado
1973-1974, printed 2008
Gelatin silver print
Image: 15.2 x 15.1cm (6 x 5 15/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Pepita Milmore Memorial Fund and Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'From Interstate 25, North Edge of Denver' 1973

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
From Interstate 25, North Edge of Denver
1973
Gelatin silver print
Image: 15.2 x 19.1cm (6 x 7 1/2 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Pepita Milmore Memorial Fund and Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Mobile Home Park, North Edge of Denver' 1973, printed 2005

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Mobile Home Park, North Edge of Denver
1973, printed 2005
Gelatin silver print
Image: 15.2 x 19.8cm (6 x 7 13/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Mary and Dan Solomon and Patrons’ Permanent Fund
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'North Edge of Denver' 1973-1974, printed 2008

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
North Edge of Denver
1973-1974, printed 2008
Gelatin silver print
Image: 15.2 x 19.2cm (6 x 7 9/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Next to Interstate 25, Denver' 1973, printed 1991

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Next to Interstate 25, Denver
1973, printed 1991
Gelatin silver print
Image: 15.2 x 19.3cm (6 x 7 5/8 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, The Ahmanson Foundation and Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Outdoor Theater, North Edge of Denver' 1973-1974

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Outdoor Theater, North Edge of Denver
1973-1974
Gelatin silver print
Image: 15.6 x 19.7cm (6 1/8 x 7 3/4 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Highway, Northeast Denver' 1973

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Highway, Northeast Denver
1973
Gelatin silver print
Image: 15.1 x 19.1cm (5 15/16 x 7 1/2 in.)
Stephen G. Stein Employee Benefit Trust
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Longmont, Colorado' 1973-1974, printed 2001

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Longmont, Colorado
1973-1974, printed 2001
gelatin silver print
Image: 16.8 x 17.2cm (6 5/8 x 6 3/4 in.)
Private collection
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Lakewood, Colorado' 1973

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Lakewood, Colorado
1973
Gelatin silver print
Image: 14.3 x 15.1cm (5 5/8 x 5 15/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Pepita Milmore Memorial Fund and Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Lakewood, Colorado' 1973, printed 1979

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Lakewood, Colorado
1973, printed 1979
gelatin silver print
Image: 15.2 x 15.2cm (6 x 6 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Pepita Milmore Memorial Fund and Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Longmont, Colorado' 1973

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Longmont, Colorado
1973
Gelatin silver print
Image: 17.2 x 15.2cm (6 3/4 x 6 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Pepita Milmore Memorial Fund and Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Boulder County, Colorado' 1974

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Boulder County, Colorado
1974
Gelatin silver print
Image and sheet: 15.2 x 19.2cm (6 x 7 9/16 in.)
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Purchased with the Alice Newton Osborn Fund, 1982
Courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum of Art
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Lakewood, Colorado' 1974, printed 1981

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Lakewood, Colorado
1974, printed 1981
Gelatin silver print
Image: 22.8 x 29.2cm (9 x 11 1/2 in.)
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Purchased with the Alice Newton Osborn Fund, 1982
Courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum of Art
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Arvada, Colorado' 1974

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Arvada, Colorado
1974
Gelatin silver print
Image: 15.2 x 19.7cm (6 x 7 3/4 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, The Ahmanson Foundation and Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Shopping Mall and Parking Lot, Denver' 1974, printed 1980s

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Shopping Mall and Parking Lot, Denver
1974, printed 1980s
Gelatin silver print
Image: 15.2 x 19.4cm (6 x 7 5/8 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Northeast from Flagstaff Mountain, Boulder County, Colorado' 1975

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Northeast from Flagstaff Mountain, Boulder County, Colorado
1975
Gelatin silver print
Image: 38.1 x 47.9cm (15 x 18 7/8 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'East from Flagstaff Mountain, Boulder County, Colorado' 1975

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
East from Flagstaff Mountain, Boulder County, Colorado
1975
Gelatin silver print
Image: 22.9 x 28.6cm (9 x 11 1/4 in.)
Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Garden of the Gods, El Paso County, Colorado' 1976

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Garden of the Gods, El Paso County, Colorado
1976
Gelatin silver print
Image: 22.9 x 28.3cm (9 x 11 1/8 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Pepita Milmore Memorial Fund and Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'South of the Rocky Flats Nuclear Weapons Plant, Jefferson County, Colorado' 1976

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
South of the Rocky Flats Nuclear Weapons Plant, Jefferson County, Colorado
1976
Gelatin silver print
Image: 17.4 x 21.8cm (6 7/8 x 8 9/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Pepita Milmore Memorial Fund and Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Lakewood, Jefferson County, Colorado' 1976

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Lakewood, Jefferson County, Colorado
1976
Gelatin silver print
Image: 22.9 x 28.6cm (9 x 11 1/4 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Longmont, Colorado' 1976

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Longmont, Colorado
1976
Gelatin silver print
Image: 17.8 x 17.8cm (7 x 7 in.)
Private collection, San Francisco
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Berthoud, Colorado' 1976

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Berthoud, Colorado
1976
Gelatin silver print
Image: 12.7 x 12.7 cm (5 x 5 in.)
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Purchased with funds contributed by Marilyn L. Steinbright, 1985
Courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum of Art
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Missouri River, Clay County, South Dakota' 1977

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Missouri River, Clay County, South Dakota
1977
Gelatin silver print
Image: 22.7 x 28.1cm (8 15/16 x 11 1/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Mary and Dan Solomon and Patrons’ Permanent Fund
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Concrete and Ice, Missouri River, Clay County, South Dakota' 1977

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Concrete and Ice, Missouri River, Clay County, South Dakota
1977
Gelatin silver print
Image: 18 x 22.2cm (7 1/16 x 8 3/4 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Pepita Milmore Memorial Fund and Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Larimer County, Colorado' 1977

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Larimer County, Colorado
1977
Gelatin silver print
Image: 22.5 x 28.1cm (8 7/8 x 11 1/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Jeffrey Fraenkel and Alan Mark
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Abandoned Car, Carbon County, Wyoming' 1977

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Abandoned Car, Carbon County, Wyoming
1977
Gelatin silver print
Image: 22.8 x 28.5cm (9 x 11 1/4 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Pepita Milmore Memorial Fund and Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Arkansas River Canyon, Colorado' 1977

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Arkansas River Canyon, Colorado
1977
Gelatin silver print
Image: 22.7 x 28.5cm (8 15/16 x 11 1/4 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Lou and Di Stovall
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Highway 287, Larimer County, Colorado' 1977

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Highway 287, Larimer County, Colorado
1977
Gelatin silver print
Image: 22.3 x 28.5cm (8 3/4 x 11 1/4 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Pepita Milmore Memorial Fund and Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Longmont, Colorado' 1977

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Longmont, Colorado
1977
Gelatin silver print
Image: 12.7 x 12.7cm (5 x 5 in.)
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Purchased with the Alice Newton Osborn Fund, 1982
Courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum of Art
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Fort Collins, Colorado' 1977, printed 1985

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Fort Collins, Colorado
1977, printed 1985
Gelatin silver print
Image: 12.7 x 12.7cm (5 x 5 in.)
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Purchased with funds contributed by Marilyn L. Steinbright, 1985
Courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum of Art
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Development Road, San Timoteo Canyon, Redlands, California' 1977

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Development Road, San Timoteo Canyon, Redlands, California
1977
Gelatin silver print
Image: 17.8 x 22.2cm (7 x 8 3/4 in.)
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Purchased with a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts and with matching funds contributed by Mr. and Mrs. Robert A. Hauslohner and Harvey S. Shipley Miller, 1980
Courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum of Art
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Edge of San Timoteo Canyon, Redlands, California' 1977-1978

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Edge of San Timoteo Canyon, Redlands, California
1977-1978
Gelatin silver print
Image: 17.8 x 22.5cm (7 x 8 7/8 in.)
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Purchased with a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts and with matching funds contributed by Mr. and Mrs. Robert A. Hauslohner and Harvey S. Shipley Miller, 1980
Courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum of Art
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Santa Ana Wash, Norton Air Force Base, San Bernardino County, California' 1977-1978

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Santa Ana Wash, Norton Air Force Base, San Bernardino County, California
1977-1978
Gelatin silver print
Image: 17.8 x 22.2cm (7 x 8 3/4 in.)
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Purchased with a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts and with matching funds contributed by Mr. and Mrs. Robert A. Hauslohner and Harvey S. Shipley Miller, 1980
Courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum of Art
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Nebraska State Highway 2, Box Butte County, Nebraska' 1978, printed 1991

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Nebraska State Highway 2, Box Butte County, Nebraska
1978, printed 1991
Gelatin silver print
Image: 22.2 x 27.8cm (8 3/4 x 10 15/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, The Ahmanson Foundation and Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Umatilla County, Oregon' 1978

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Umatilla County, Oregon
1978
Gelatin silver print
Image: 38.2 x 47.6cm (15 1/16 x 18 3/4 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Patrons’ Permanent Fund
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Quarried Mesa Top, Pueblo County, Colorado' 1978

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Quarried Mesa Top, Pueblo County, Colorado
1978
Gelatin silver print
Image: 38 x 47cm (14 15/16 x 18 1/2 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Patrons’ Permanent Fund
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Edge of San Timoteo Canyon, Redlands, California' 1978

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Edge of San Timoteo Canyon, Redlands, California
1978
Gelatin silver print
Image: 22.7 x 28.3cm (8 15/16 x 11 1/8 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Mary and Dan Solomon and Patrons’ Permanent Fund
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Eucalyptus along Interstate 10, Redlands, California' 1978

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Eucalyptus along Interstate 10, Redlands, California
1978
Gelatin silver print
Image: 22.9 x 28.3cm (9 x 11 1/8 in.)
Collection of Frish Brandt and August Fischer
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Longmont, Colorado' 1979, printed 1985

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Longmont, Colorado
1979, printed 1985
Gelatin silver print
Image: 12.7 x 12.7cm (5 x 5 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Mary and David Robinson
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Longmont, Colorado' 1979

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Longmont, Colorado
1979
Gelatin silver print
Image: 22.9 x 22.5cm (9 x 8 7/8 in.)
Robert and Kerstin Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

 

Robert Adams is a man who walks with silences. I feel the pace of his stride in the quiet, acute considerations of his photographs of the American West. That he is drawn to sources of light in darkness, be it the moon, the shimmering light on poplar leaves, or the lonely lamp radiating on to the streets from a house in the suburbs, inspires me to pursue my own night walks in summer. In the embrace of the night, my own darkness is absorbed into an uncommon stillness that does not frighten me. I see the eye-shine of other creatures and it is a comfort to know we are not alone.

The stillness married to loneliness in Adams work is something I understand as a westerner born in the suburbs of 1955. Though we have never met, he photographed my mother on one of his walks in Colorado Springs (1968) even though she was sitting in a different living room on Moor Mont Drive in Salt Lake City, Utah. …

The silhouette of the woman I see in the window, facing the door that is closed, in a red brick house, with a putting-green lawn, where a gentle curve of concrete leads to the entrance, is the home I was raised in as a child. I write this long sentence intentionally, because those were the days of my childhood that felt languid and secure.

This was the New West that Robert Adams captured in the middle of construction. We lived inside the green square houses used in the game Monopoly. But what we always knew was that beyond the dust of development and the play money that became real, wildness awaited us – even if it was the empty lot next door or the dirt road nearby that led to the creek shaded by cottonwoods.

Cottonwoods were the guardians of our childhood. They were deemed safe by our parents. They sheltered us from the heat of summer and the claustrophobia of winter. We knew their secrets. Inside their tangled skirts of lower branches families of house wrens lived and in the upper branches, great horned owls could be heard. The cottonwoods’ massive fluted trunks were our hide-and-seek. And if we gave our siblings a hand-stirrup up, we could climb into the large embrace of the trees. Once in the cottonwood’s arms, we were camouflaged in its rustling leaves – we would simply listen. It’s where I learned to trust other species more than my own. My love of solitude was nurtured inside these cathedral groves of cottonwoods.

The cottonwoods that appear in Weld County, Colorado (1992) and reappear throughout Adams’ work are emblematic of his intimacy and understanding of the American West. Cottonwoods root themselves near water. They are the wanderer’s hope in arid country. Water is the difference between living and dying in the West. And when Adams speaks of his affection toward one particular cottonwood in a field in Colorado, photographing it over many years, only to return one day to see it cut down – he faced what remained of the beloved tree as grieving kin. The body of a man, the body of a tree, there is no separation in the shared reach of a relationship. …

Robert Adams has been led by Beauty on what could be seen as the spiritual path of the artist as he followed forms of light again and again through the depths of darkness, even his own. Never easy, but often, glorious. We are the beneficiaries of his focus. He is a trustworthy companion. I choose to walk with him. Perhaps, he learned something about tenacious love as a form of being on those solitary summer nights as he walked in moonlight with an eye toward stillness.

Terry Tempest Williams. “Terry Tempest Williams on Walking with Robert Adams,” on the National Gallery of Art website May 19, 2022 [Online] Cited 31/05/2022, excerpted from the afterword by Terry Tempest Williams in the book American Silence: The Photographs of Robert Adams.

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Denver' 1980

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Denver
1980
Gelatin silver print
Image: 16.8 x 17.2cm (6 5/8 x 6 3/4 in.)
Robert and Kerstin Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Denver' 1980

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Denver
1980
Gelatin silver print
Image: 20.3 x 15.9cm (8 x 6 1/4 in.)
Robert and Kerstin Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Denver' 1980

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Denver
1980
Gelatin silver print
Image: 24.6 x 22.7cm (9 11/16 x 8 15/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Pepita Milmore Memorial Fund and Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Denver' 1980

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Denver
1980
Gelatin silver print
Image: 26 x 22.6cm (10 1/4 x 8 7/8 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Pepita Milmore Memorial Fund and Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Longmont, Colorado' 1980

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Longmont, Colorado
1980
Gelatin silver print
Image: 18.1 x 15.6cm (7 1/8 x 6 1/8 in.)
Robert and Kerstin Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Denver' 1980

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Denver
1980
Gelatin silver print
Image: 27.9 x 22.5cm (11 x 8 7/8 in.)
Robert and Kerstin Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Weld County, Colorado' 1981, printed 1987

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Weld County, Colorado
1981, printed 1987
Gelatin silver print
Image: 38 x 47.6cm (14 15/16 x 18 3/4 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Pepita Milmore Memorial Fund and Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Weld County, Colorado' 1981, printed 1988

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Weld County, Colorado
1981, printed 1988
Gelatin silver print
Image: 37.8 x 47cm (14 7/8 x 18 1/2 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Pepita Milmore Memorial Fund and Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Denver' 1981

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Denver
1981
Gelatin silver print
Image: 14.6 x 15.2cm (5 3/4 x 6 in.)
Robert and Kerstin Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Denver' 1981

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Denver
1981
Gelatin silver print
Image: 17.15 x 16.83cm (6 3/4 x 6 5/8 in.)
Robert and Kerstin Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Denver' 1981

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Denver
1981
Gelatin silver print
Image: 17.2 x 17.2cm (6 3/4 x 6 3/4 in.)
Robert and Kerstin Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Denver' 1981

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Denver
1981
Gelatin silver print
Image: 18.4 x 15.7cm (7 1/4 x 6 3/16 in.)
Yale University Art Gallery, Purchased with a gift from Saundra B. Lane, a grant from the Trellis Fund, and the Janet and Simeon Braguin Fund
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Denver' 1981

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Denver
1981
Gelatin silver print
Image: 20.6 x 15.9cm (8 1/8 x 6 1/4 in.)
Robert and Kerstin Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Denver' 1981

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Denver
1981
Gelatin silver print
Image: 17.8 x 15.9cm (7 x 6 1/4 in.)
Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Remains of a Eucalyptus Windbreak, Redlands, California' 1982, printed 1990

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Remains of a Eucalyptus Windbreak, Redlands, California
1982, printed 1990
Gelatin silver print
Image: 38.1 x 47.5cm (15 x 18 11/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Pepita Milmore Memorial Fund and Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Firebreak, above East Highland, California' 1982

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Firebreak, above East Highland, California
1982
Gelatin silver print
Image: 27.4 x 22.8cm (10 13/16 x 9 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, The Ahmanson Foundation and Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Santa Ana Wash, Redlands, California' 1982

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Santa Ana Wash, Redlands, California
1982
Gelatin silver print
Image: 38 x 47.1cm (14 15/16 x 18 9/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Pepita Milmore Memorial Fund and Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Rialto, California' 1982

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Rialto, California
1982
Gelatin silver print
Image: 22.8 x 28.6cm (9 x 11 1/4 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, The Ahmanson Foundation and Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Looking toward the Mountains in Smog, Weld County, Colorado' 1983

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Looking toward the Mountains in Smog, Weld County, Colorado
1983
Gelatin silver print
Image: 37.8 x 47cm (14 7/8 x 18 1/2 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Boulder County, Colorado' 1983

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Boulder County, Colorado
1983
Gelatin silver print
Image: 37.8 x 47.5cm (14 7/8 x 18 11/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Pepita Milmore Memorial Fund and Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Old Estate Road, Redlands, California' 1983

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Old Estate Road, Redlands, California
1983
Gelatin silver print
Image: 22.9 x 28.6cm (9 x 11 1/4 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Eucalyptus Branch, Redlands, California' 1983

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Eucalyptus Branch, Redlands, California
1983
Gelatin silver print
Image: 37.9 x 47.1cm (14 15/16 x 18 9/16 in.)
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Gift of the Friends of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1986
Courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum of Art
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'On Signal Hill, Overlooking Long Beach, California' 1983, printed 199

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
On Signal Hill, Overlooking Long Beach, California
1983, printed 1990
Gelatin silver print
Image: 22.9 x 28.5cm (9 x 11 1/4 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Mary and Dan Solomon and Patrons’ Permanent Fund
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Broken Trees, East of Riverside, California' 1983

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Broken Trees, East of Riverside, California
1983
Gelatin silver print
Image: 37.6 x 46.7cm (14 13/16 x 18 3/8 in.)
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Purchased with the Alice Newton Osborn Fund, 1986
Courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum of Art
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Eroding Edge of a Former Citrus-Growing Estate, Highland, California' 1983

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Eroding Edge of a Former Citrus-Growing Estate, Highland, California
1983
Gelatin silver print
Image: 38 x 46.7cm (14 15/16 x 18 3/8 in.)
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Purchased with the Alice Newton Osborn Fund, 1986
Courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum of Art
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'On Top of the La Loma Hills, Colton, California' 1983

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
On Top of the La Loma Hills, Colton, California
1983
Gelatin silver print
Image: 38 x 47cm (14 15/16 x 18 1/2 in.)
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Purchased with the Alice Newton Osborn Fund, 1986
Courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum of Art
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'New Development on a Former Citrus-Growing Estate, Highland, California' 1983

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
New Development on a Former Citrus-Growing Estate, Highland, California
1983
Gelatin silver print
Image: 38.1 x 47cm (15 x 18 1/2 in.)
Andrew Szegedy-Maszak and Elizabeth Bobrick
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'New Housing, Reche Canyon, San Bernardino County, California' 1983

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
New Housing, Reche Canyon, San Bernardino County, California
1983
Gelatin silver print
Image: 37.9 x 47.8cm (14 15/16 x 18 13/16 in.)
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Purchased with funds contributed by Ann and Donald W. McPhail and the Atlantic Richfield Foundation, 1986
Courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum of Art
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Interstate 10, West Edge of Redlands, California' 1983

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Interstate 10, West Edge of Redlands, California
1983
Gelatin silver print
Image: 37.5 x 45.7cm (14 3/4 x 18 in.)
Christine and Michael J. Murray
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Fontana, California' 1983

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Fontana, California
1983
Gelatin silver print
Image: 22.9 x 28.6cm (9 x 11 1/4 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Weld County, Colorado' 1984

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Weld County, Colorado
1984
Gelatin silver print
Image: 38 x 47.7cm (14 15/16 x 18 3/4 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, The Ahmanson Foundation and Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Weld County, Colorado' 1984

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Weld County, Colorado
1984
Gelatin silver print
Image: 37.9 x 46.8cm (14 15/16 x 18 7/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, The Ahmanson Foundation and Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Weld County, Colorado' 1984

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Weld County, Colorado
1984
Gelatin silver print
Image: 38.1 x 47.3cm (15 x 18 5/8 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Sally, Weld County, Colorado' 1984, printed 1990

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Sally, Weld County, Colorado
1984, printed 1990
Gelatin silver print
Image: 22.7 x 28.2cm (8 15/16 x 11 1/8 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Mary and David Robinson
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Weld County, Colorado' 1992

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Weld County, Colorado
1992
Gelatin silver print
Image: 37 x 46cm (14 9/16 x 18 1/8 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Pepita Milmore Memorial Fund and Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Irrigation Canal, Larimer County, Colorado' 1995

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Irrigation Canal, Larimer County, Colorado
1995
Gelatin silver print
Image: 29 x 22.8cm (11 7/16 x 9 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Pepita Milmore Memorial Fund and Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Poplars, Harney County, Oregon' 1999

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Poplars, Harney County, Oregon
1999
Photogravure
Image: 50.5 x 40cm (19 7/8 x 15 3/4 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Linda Hackett and Russell Munson Fund and Alfred H. Moses and Fern M. Schad Fund
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Poplars, Harney County, Oregon' 1999

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Poplars, Harney County, Oregon
1999
Photogravure
Image: 49.3 x 40cm (19 7/16 x 15 3/4 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Linda Hackett and Russell Munson Fund and Alfred H. Moses and Fern M. Schad Fund
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Poplars, Harney County, Oregon' 1999

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Poplars, Harney County, Oregon
1999
Photogravure
Image: 50.5 x 40cm (19 7/8 x 15 3/4 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Linda Hackett and Russell Munson Fund and Alfred H. Moses and Fern M. Schad Fund
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Poplars, Harney County, Oregon' 1999

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Poplars, Harney County, Oregon
1999
Photogravure
Image: 50 x 40cm (19 11/16 x 15 3/4 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Linda Hackett and Russell Munson Fund and Alfred H. Moses and Fern M. Schad Fund
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Clearcut, Coos County, Oregon' 1999

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Clearcut, Coos County, Oregon
1999
Gelatin silver print
Image: 28.2 x 22.7cm (11 1/8 x 8 15/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Pepita Milmore Memorial Fund and Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Kerstin next to an Old-Growth Stump, Coos County, Oregon' 1999

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Kerstin next to an Old-Growth Stump, Coos County, Oregon
1999
Gelatin silver print
Image: 27.9 x 22.9cm (11 x 9 in.)
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Gift of Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco
Photograph: Don Ross

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Clearcut, Coos County, Oregon' 1999

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Clearcut, Coos County, Oregon
1999
Gelatin silver print
Image: 22.7 x 28.2cm (8 15/16 x 11 1/8 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Pepita Milmore Memorial Fund and Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Columbia County, Oregon' 1999-2001

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Columbia County, Oregon
1999-2001
Gelatin silver print
Image: 31.3 x 39.7cm (12 5/16 x 15 5/8 in.)
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Purchase through a gift of an anonymous donor
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco
Photograph: Don Ross

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Baker County, Oregon' 2000

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Baker County, Oregon
2000
Gelatin silver print
Image: 20.6 x 26.1cm (8 1/8 x 10 1/4 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Clearcut, Coos County, Oregon' c. 2000

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Clearcut, Coos County, Oregon
c. 2000
Gelatin silver print
Image: 39.4 x 31.3cm (15 1/2 x 12 5/16 in.)
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Gift of Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco
Photograph: Don Ross

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Clearcut, Clatsop County, Oregon' c. 2000

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Clearcut, Clatsop County, Oregon
c. 2000
Gelatin silver print
Image: 22.8 x 28.6cm (9 x 11 1/4 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Clearcut, Clatsop County, Oregon' c. 2000

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Clearcut, Clatsop County, Oregon
c. 2000
Gelatin silver print
Image: 22.5 x 28.6cm (8 7/8 x 11 1/4 in.)
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Purchase through a gift of an anonymous donor
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco
Photograph: Don Ross

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Clearcut, Clatsop County, Oregon' 2001

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Clearcut, Clatsop County, Oregon
2001
Gelatin silver print
Image: 22.8 x 28.9cm (9 x 11 3/8 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Pepita Milmore Memorial Fund and Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Kerstin, Old-Growth Stump, the Last Evidence of the Original Forest, Clatsop County, Oregon' c. 2001

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Kerstin, Old-Growth Stump, the Last Evidence of the Original Forest, Clatsop County, Oregon
c. 2001
Gelatin silver print
Image: 22.8 x 28.7cm (9 x 11 5/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Pepita Milmore Memorial Fund and Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

 

These views of the American West evoke a wide range of memories, myths, and regrets associated with America’s final frontier. In the nineteenth century, that frontier began at the Missouri River. Beyond it lay a landscape of natural grandeur and purity, challenging the spirit and promising redemption. At the time the pictures were made, the hand of man had not so much disfigured as domesticated that paradise, leaving its mark of intrusion almost casually, with the assurance of absolute triumph. Adams recorded this intrusion with neither judgment nor irony; the land he shows has simply been changed, reduced, made ordinary. Yet a second look makes it apparent that the hand of man has, after all, its limitations. The simple natural facts imposed upon by civilization still exert a mysterious counterforce: they abide, in a kind of triumph of resignation. That counterforce is present in all of Adams’s images, recognizable as the same silence and stillness that once summoned pioneers into a wilderness, and now summon their descendants to remember.

~ from the book Robert Adams: From the Missouri West

9.5 x 11.5 in, Hardcover
First edition, 46 b&w photographs
Aperture
1980

 

denver and What We Bought, together with The New West, form a loose trilogy of Robert Adams’s work exploring the rapidly developing landscape of the Denver metropolitan area from 1968 through 1974. In the former two books, Adams created a comprehensive document that was resolute in its avoidance of romantic notions of the American West and dispassionately honest about man’s despoliation of the land. Both books demonstrate the artist at the height of his powers as a documentary photographer and a poetic sequencer of images.

The photographs featured in denver and What We Bought show tract housing with mountain ranges in the distance, trailer lots devoid of people, suburban streets through generic windows, shopping mall interiors, and parking lots: subjects distinctly unspectacular, familiar, and banal. Adams’s compositions are straightforward and democratic, and it is this precise turn from sentimentality that has made Adams one of the most influential figures in the history of American photography.

~ the publisher

8 x 9.25 in., Hardbound
136 pages, 117 tritone illustrations
Yale University Press
2009

 

Listening to the River is a celebration of anonymous places where we can still find nature’s beauty. Robert Adams first visited these particular locations as a boy, when the West seemed unchanging. Now in his fifties, he returns to them with the affection of a longtime acquaintance. The book records hushed walks when irrelevancies are forgotten, when sunlight makes the fields, hills, and roads new. Adams has chosen twelve poems by William Stafford to accompany the pictures. Both photographer and poet observe a practice of quiet in the out-of-doors, and both discover there a promise.

This is an optimistic book, though not a sentimental one: a number of the photographs record views of the suburban West. “Any tree in the path of development appears to have an uncertain future,” Adams observes. Listening to the River affirms, however, that trees and other elements of nature are ultimately protected. “Part of what their beauty means,” says the photographer, “is that they are safe.”

In 1989 Adams spoke at the Philadelphia Museum of Art about his enjoyment of the landscape, citing as an example his experiences at rural crossroads on the plains: “Sometimes there doesn’t seem to be anything there at all – just two roads, four fields, and sky. Small things, however, can become important – a lark or a mailbox or sunflowers. And if I wait I may see the architecture – the roads and the fields and the sky. Were you and I to drive the prairie together, and the day turned out to be a good one, we might not say much. We might get out of the truck at a crossroads, stretch, walk a little ways, and then walk back. Maybe the lark would sing. Maybe we would stand for a while, all views to the horizon, all roads interesting. We might find there a balance of form and openness, even of community and freedom. It would be the world as we had hoped, and we would recognize it together.”

~ the publisher

10 x 13 in, Hardcover
Featuring poems by William Stafford; 176 plates
Aperture
1994

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'The River's Edge' 2015

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
The River’s Edge
2015
Gelatin silver print
Image: 19.8 x 29.9cm (7 13/16 x 11 3/4 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Stephen G. Stein
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'The River's Edge' 2015

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
The River’s Edge
2015
Gelatin silver print
Image: 19.7 x 29.8cm (7 3/4 x 11 3/4 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Stephen G. Stein
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'The River's Edge' 2015

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
The River’s Edge
2015
Gelatin silver print
Image: 19.9 x 29.9cm (7 13/16 x 11 3/4 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Stephen G. Stein
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'The River's Edge' 2015

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
The River’s Edge
2015
Gelatin silver print
Image: 19.8 x 30cm (7 13/16 x 11 13/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Stephen G. Stein
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'The River's Edge' 2015

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
The River’s Edge
2015
Gelatin silver print
Image: 19.8 x 29.8cm (7 13/16 x 11 3/4 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Stephen G. Stein
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'The Interior of the Spit' 2015

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
The Interior of the Spit
2015
Gelatin silver print
Image: 22.5 x 28.7cm (8 7/8 x 11 5/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Stephen G. Stein
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'The Interior of the Spit' 2015

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
The Interior of the Spit
2015
Gelatin silver print
Image: 22.6 x 28.8cm (8 7/8 x 11 5/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Stephen G. Stein
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'The Interior of the Spit' 2015

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
The Interior of the Spit
2015
Gelatin silver print
Image: 22.6 x 28.8cm (8 7/8 x 11 5/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Stephen G. Stein
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'The Sea Beach' 2015

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
The Sea Beach
2015
Gelatin silver print
Image: 22.6 x 28.2cm (8 7/8 x 11 1/8 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Stephen G. Stein
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'The Sea Beach' 2015

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
The Sea Beach
2015
Gelatin silver print
Image: 22.7 x 28.8cm (8 15/16 x 11 5/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Stephen G. Stein
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'The Sea Beach' 2015

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
The Sea Beach
2015
Gelatin silver print
Image: 22.5 x 28.5cm (8 7/8 x 11 1/4 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Stephen G. Stein
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'The Sea Beach' 2015

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
The Sea Beach
2015
Gelatin silver print
Image: 22.5 x 28.3cm (8 7/8 x 11 1/8 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Stephen G. Stein
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'The Sea Beach' 2015

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
The Sea Beach
2015
Gelatin silver print
Image: 22.6 x 28.2cm (8 7/8 x 11 1/8 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Stephen G. Stein
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'The Sea Beach, Albatross' 2015

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
The Sea Beach, Albatross
2015
Gelatin silver print
Image: 22.5 x 28.2cm (8 7/8 x 11 1/8 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Stephen G. Stein
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'The Sea Beach' 2015

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
The Sea Beach
2015
Gelatin silver print
Image: 22.5 x 28.5cm (8 7/8 x 11 1/4 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Stephen G. Stein
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'The Sea Beach' 2015

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
The Sea Beach
2015
Gelatin silver print
Image: 22.8 x 28.8cm (9 x 11 5/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Stephen G. Stein
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'The Sea Beach' 2015

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
The Sea Beach
2015
Gelatin silver print
Image: 22.5 x 28.4cm (8 7/8 x 11 3/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Stephen G. Stein
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'The Sea Beach' 2015

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
The Sea Beach
2015
Gelatin silver print
Image: 22.7 x 28.9cm (8 15/16 x 11 3/8 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Stephen G. Stein
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'The Sea Beach' 2015

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
The Sea Beach
2015
Gelatin silver print
Image: 22.5 x 28cm (8 7/8 x 11 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Stephen G. Stein
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'The Sea Beach' 2015

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
The Sea Beach
2015
Gelatin silver print
Image: 22.8 x 28.9cm (9 x 11 3/8 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Stephen G. Stein
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'The Sea Beach' 2015

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
The Sea Beach
2015
Gelatin silver print
Image: 22.7 x 28.9cm (8 15/16 x 11 3/8 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Stephen G. Stein
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'The Sea Beach' 2015

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
The Sea Beach
2015
Gelatin silver print
Image: 22.6 x 28.3cm (8 7/8 x 11 1/8 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Stephen G. Stein
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

 

National Gallery of Art
National Mall between 3rd and 7th Streets
Constitution Avenue NW, Washington

Opening hours:
Daily 10am – 5pm

National Gallery of Art website

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03
Sep
22

Exhibition: ‘Signs: Photographs by Jim Dow’ at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City

Exhibition dates: 7th May – 9th October 2022

 

Jim Dow (American, b. 1942) '"Fortune Teller" Sign. US 79 & 80, Greenwood, Louisiana' 1975

 

Jim Dow (American, b. 1942)
“Fortune Teller” Sign. US 79 & 80, Greenwood, Louisiana
1975
Gelatin silver print
15 5/8 × 19 9/16 inches (39.7 × 49.68cm)
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
Gift of the Hall Family Foundation

 

 

These photographs build on the lexicon of existing photographs of this type (Americurbana) from photographers such as Dorothea Lange, Berenice Abbott, Walker Evans, Margaret Bourke-White, Minor White and Harry Callahan. As such they add to the pantheon of known images on a subject. Dow studied with not just Harry Callahan, but also Walker Evans and Minor White, and these are early images in the development of the artist, when he was starting to find his artistic signature.

In some of the first images such as Lott’s Grocery Store. US 11, Bessemer, Alabama (1968, below) we can see Dow’s indebtedness to his teacher, Walker Evans’ vision; in other later photographs (1972 onwards) we see Dow’s concentration on detail, so that the sign fills the frame. In these contextless, groundless photographs the signs become floating signs, floating signifiers, where interpretation is left wholly up to the viewer.

In this sense, Dow is developing a different artistic and visual language to describe the American vernacular… graphic, isolated, strong and more than slightly surreal images that creep into the imagination as if in a bad dream. The robotic head covered in neon; the bowling ball struck through with an arrow; the diver like a swooping fighter plane; the skeletal horse and rider; and the look of fear on the child’s face as he gets inoculated. Weird tales and gothic fiction.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

.
Many thankx to The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

Vivid, clear-sighted images of American vernacular signage and architecture encountered along old US highways showcase the early black-and-white work of the acclaimed photographer Jim Dow.

The American photographer Jim Dow (b. 1942) is renowned for photographs that depict the built environment – he first gained attention for his panoramic triptychs of baseball stadiums – and for his skill at conveying the “human ingenuity and spirit” that suffuse the spaces. This book is the first to focus on Dow’s early black-and-white pictures, featuring more than 60 photographs made between 1967 and 1977, a majority of which have never before been published. Indebted to the work of Walker Evans, a key mentor of Dow’s, these photographs depict time-worn signage taken from billboards, diners, gas stations, drive-ins, and other small businesses. While still recognisable as icons of commercial Americana, without their context Dow’s signs impart ambiguous messages, often situated between documentation and abstraction. Including a new essay by Dow that reveals his own perspective on the development of the work, Signs suggests how these formative years honed the artist’s sensibility and conceptual approach.

 

 

“Late in the fall of 1965, I met Walker Evans. I had no idea who he was or anything about his work. But his book ‘American Photographs’ completely changed the way I thought about photography. The pictures were descriptive, literate and distinct. They could be read slowly; information was packed into every square inch. They were intense but not dramatic. Rigorous in their making, they demanded attentive scrutiny. It was clear that I had a template for my education through a classic method: at first emulate, then lease the space and ultimately own the process, until taking pictures was no longer a re-enactment. …

I never travelled around the US to find myself. I went to find people, places and things I didn’t know about. Leaving familiar confines is an outward-facing process best done by car on older two- or three-lane roads, stopping, looking and listening every step of the way.”

.
Jim Dow in the book Signs: Photographs by Jim Dow

 

 

 

Signs: Photographs by Jim Dow, with essays by Jim Dow and April M. Watson
Distributed for The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art

 

Jim Dow (American, b. 1942) 'Lott's Grocery Store. US 11, Bessemer, Alabama' 1968

 

Jim Dow (American, b. 1942)
Lott’s Grocery Store. US 11, Bessemer, Alabama
1968
Gelatin silver print
3 3/4 × 4 3/4 inches (9.53 × 12.07cm)
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
Gift of the Hall Family Foundation

 

Jim Dow (American, b. 1942) 'Abandoned Truck Stop. US 61/AR 150, near Number Nine, Arkansas' 1970

 

Jim Dow (American, b. 1942)
Abandoned Truck Stop. US 61/AR 150, near Number Nine, Arkansas
1970
Gelatin silver print
7 15/16 × 9 11/16 inches (20.14 × 24.61cm)
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
Gift of the Hall Family Foundation

 

Jim Dow (American, b. 1942) 'Bowling Pin with Arrow. US 1, Branford, Connecticut' 1971

 

Jim Dow (American, b. 1942)
Bowling Pin with Arrow. US 1, Branford, Connecticut
1971
Gelatin silver print
7 7/8 x 9 11/16 inches (19.99 × 24.61cm)
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
Gift of Jim and Jacquie Dow

 

Jim Dow (American, b. 1942) 'Horse Painting on Sign, Ranch Entrance. US 87, Billings, Montana' 1972

 

Jim Dow (American, b. 1942)
Horse Painting on Sign, Ranch Entrance. US 87, Billings, Montana
1972
Gelatin silver print
15 7/8 × 20 1/16 inches (40.31 × 50.95cm)
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
Gift of the Hall Family Foundation

 

Jim Dow (American, b. 1942) 'Curlicue Arrow Sign. US 2, near Wenatchee, Washington' 1972

 

Jim Dow (American, b. 1942)
Curlicue Arrow Sign. US 2, near Wenatchee, Washington
1972
Gelatin silver print
7 15/16 × 9 5/8 inches (20.14 × 24.46cm)
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
Gift of the Hall Family Foundation

 

Jim Dow (American, b. 1942) 'Rear of Screen, Van Nuys Drive-In Theatre. Old US 101, Van Nuys, California' 1973

 

Jim Dow (American, b. 1942)
Rear of Screen, Van Nuys Drive-In Theatre. Old US 101, Van Nuys, California
1973
Gelatin silver print
15 9/16 x 19 ½ inches (39.52 × 49.53cm)
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
Gift of the Hall Family Foundation

 

Jim Dow (American, b. 1942) 'Detail, Diving Lady Sign. Near US 19, Blairsville, Georgia' 1973

 

Jim Dow (American, b. 1942)
Detail, Diving Lady Sign. Near US 19, Blairsville, Georgia
1973
Gelatin silver print
7 15/16 x 9 11/16 inches (20.14 × 24.61cm)
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
Gift of the Hall Family Foundation

 

 

For American photographer Jim Dow, a road trip was not just an excuse to travel from one place to another; it provided an opportunity to find inspiration in the unique structures lining old U. S. highways. Between 1967 and 1977, a decade marking the first ten years of his career, Dow traveled over 150,000 miles on multiple cross-country road trips, photographing vernacular architecture, signage, and commercial billboards that conveyed a unique sense of human spirit and industry. A new, free exhibition at The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Signs: Photographs by Jim Dow, draws visitors into Dow’s fascination with the everyday structures that constitute the landscapes we inhabit.

“Although most of Dow’s subjects have long since disappeared, the impetus to make one’s mark on the land through an assertion of livelihood, values, and aspiration remains,” said Julián Zugazagoitia, Menefee D. and Mary Louise Blackwell CEO & Director of the Nelson-Atkins. “There will always be a desire to express individual agency and creativity, and Dow’s photographs remind us that as difficult as that may be, it remains vital for understanding ourselves and our community.”

Signs: Photographs by Jim Dow opens May 7 and features 62 black-and-white photographs from the early part of Dow’s career, as well as a small selection of recent colour photographs that extend the themes forged during his formative years.

“Dow travelled on back roads rather than the interstate system,” said April M. Watson, Senior Curator of Photography. “He always sought unusual or unique subjects that stood apart from the corporate chains that had begun to dominate the social landscape, often isolating specific details so they appear unmoored from their immediate surroundings.”

Born in 1942, Dow grew up in Belmont, Massachusetts and attended the Rhode Island School of Design. As an undergraduate, he majored in graphic design, and in his senior year, had the good fortune to take his introductory photography classes with renowned photographer Harry Callahan. Thanks to Callahan’s influence, Dow was able to continue graduate studies at RISD, completing his MFA in photography in 1968.

A meeting with Walker Evans while Dow was in graduate school made a profound impact on him. Dow found Evans’s sophisticated embrace of vernacular American subject matter and straightforward, descriptive application of the medium to be revelatory. Between 1969 and 1971, he worked closely with Evans when printing Evans’s work for a career retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. In the late 1960s, Dow began searching for his own subject matter, taking numerous road trips. Roadside diners, drive-in movie theatres, ice cream stands, burger joints, billboards, gas stations, and small-town, storefront murals all became part of Dow’s regular roster of subjects, as he refined his own artistic vision. Grants from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1973, and a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1974 allowed Dow to continue his project.

This exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue with essays by Dow and Watson, distributed by Yale University Press. Signs: Photographs by Jim Dow runs through Oct. 9, 2022.

 

Jim Dow (American, b. 1942) 'Trailer Park Sign. US 27, Red Bank, Tennessee' 1973

 

Jim Dow (American, b. 1942)
Trailer Park Sign. US 27, Red Bank, Tennessee
1973
Gelatin silver print
7 7/8 × 9 11/16 inches (19.99 × 24.61cm)
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
Gift of the Hall Family Foundation

 

Jim Dow (American, b. 1942) 'Neon Cowboy Sign. US 66, Duarte, California' 1973

 

Jim Dow (American, b. 1942)
Neon Cowboy Sign. US 66, Duarte, California
1973
Gelatin silver print
8 × 9 15/16 inches (20.32 × 25.22cm)
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
Gift of the Hall Family Foundation

 

Jim Dow (American, b. 1942) 'Lady Reclining on La-Z-Boy Sign. PA 61, Shamokin, Pennsylvania' 1973

 

Jim Dow (American, b. 1942)
Lady Reclining on La-Z-Boy Sign. PA 61, Shamokin, Pennsylvania
1973
Gelatin silver print
8 × 9 15/16 inches (20.32 × 25.22cm)
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
Gift of the Hall Family Foundation

 

Jim Dow (American, b. 1942) 'Coffee At It's Best Sign. US 11, Pittston, Pennsylvania' 1973

 

Jim Dow (American, b. 1942)
Coffee At It’s Best Sign. US 11, Pittston, Pennsylvania
1973
Gelatin silver print
8 x 9 15/16 inches
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
Gift of the Hall Family Foundation

 

Jim Dow (American, b. 1942) '"Heated Pool" Sign at Motel. US 99, Bakersfield, California' 1975

 

Jim Dow (American, b. 1942)
“Heated Pool” Sign at Motel. US 99, Bakersfield, California
1975
Gelatin silver print
7 11/16 × 9 11/16 inches (19.53 × 24.61cm)
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
Gift of the Hall Family Foundation

 

Jim Dow (American, b. 1942) 'Detail, Coy Getting on Inoculation Sign. US 20, Idaho Falls, Idaho' 1975

 

Jim Dow (American, b. 1942)
Detail, Coy Getting on Inoculation Sign. US 20, Idaho Falls, Idaho
1975
Gelatin silver print
15 7/8 × 19 7/8 inches (40.31 × 50.47cm)
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
Gift of the Hall Family Foundation

 

 

“Jim was extremely fortunate to study with not just Harry Callahan, but also Walker Evans and Minor White; three of the most outstanding figures in photographic history, and all masters of black and white. His formal approach to his work obviously stems from their teaching, and in some ways, his love of “collecting culture” with his 8 x 10 view camera does as well. Like Evans and to some degree, Minor White, Jim is attracted to aspects of material culture which often speak to a fading history – that of small town America. He doesn’t seek out majestic or sublime subject matter, rather, he simply elevates the everyday. This characteristic of his work aligns him with other photographers working in colour in the 1970s and 80s, such as Stephen Shore, William Eggleston, and Joel Sternfeld who were all similarly enchanted with revealing the true textures of the world immediately around us and feeding our popular imaginations. And like his peers, Jim is indelibly part of the tried and true American tradition of hitting the road and traveling extensively to make his work. His wanderlust has led him throughout the country and he has amassed an impressive archive of the American vernacular in the process.”

Hannah Sloan, The Rose Gallery quoted in Aline Smithson. “Interview with Jim Dow: The Griffin Museum’s Focus Award recipient for Lifetime Achievement,” on the Lenscratch website October 24, 2014 [Online] Cited 31/08/2022

 

Jim Dow (American, b. 1942) 'Detail, School Crossing Sign. Albany, Georgia' 1975

 

Jim Dow (American, b. 1942)
Detail, School Crossing Sign. Albany, Georgia
1975
Gelatin silver print
7 11/16 x 9 5/8 inches
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
Gift of the Hall Family Foundation

 

 

When Dow took to the road, he always sought unusual or unique subjects that stood apart from the ever-increasing presence of corporate chains. Rather than focusing on the entirety of his subjects, he often isolated specific details of image and text so that they appear unmoored from their immediate surroundings. Roadside diners, drive-in movie theatres, ice cream stands, burger joints, billboards, gas stations and small-town, storefront murals all became part of Dow’s regular roster, as he refined his own artistic vision and organically developed categories of subject matter. …

More often than not, Dow’s subjects bear the marks of time’s passage, evident in the weather-worn surfaces, outdated clichés, and stereotyped imagery that prevailed in mid-20th-century American consumer culture but had begun to deteriorate in the shifting socioeconomic and political landscape of the early 1970s. It is this sense of things passing out of one time period and into another that permeates Dow’s photographs, which are less of a particular time than about the passage of time itself. Though most of the subjects Dow photographed have long since disappeared, the impetus to make one’s mark on the land through an assertion of livelihood, values and aspiration remains. In a nation where economic prosperity relies on a perpetual renewal of tastes, trends and styles, there will always be a desire to express individual agency and creativity. Dow’s photographs remind us that as difficult as that endeavour may be in an era of monopolised, corporate consumption, it remains vital for understanding our sense of self and community.

April M. Watson, Senior Curator, Photography. “Signs: Photographs by Jim Dow,” on the K C Studio website March 11, 2022 [Online] Cited 31/08/2022

 

Jim Dow (American, b. 1942) 'Papier-mâché Elephant. US 202, Gwynedd, Pennsylvania' 1977

 

Jim Dow (American, b. 1942)
Papier-mâché Elephant. US 202, Gwynedd, Pennsylvania
1977
Gelatin silver print
7 15/16 × 9 7/8 inches (20.14 × 25.07cm)
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
Gift of the Hall Family Foundation

 

Jim Dow (American, b. 1942) 'Hardware Store Painting on Wall. Nashville, Tennessee' 1977

 

Jim Dow (American, b. 1942)
Hardware Store Painting on Wall. Nashville, Tennessee
1977
Gelatin silver print
15 15/16 × 19 7/8 inches (40.46 × 50.47cm)
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
Gift of the Hall Family Foundation

 

 

Jim Dow Trailer

 

'Signs: Photographs by Jim Dow' book cover

 

Signs: Photographs by Jim Dow book cover

 

 

The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
4525 Oak Street
Kansas City, MO 64111

Opening hours:
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Closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays

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28
Aug
22

Exhibition: ‘Our Selves: Photographs by Women Artists from Helen Kornblum’ at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

Exhibition dates: 16th April – 2nd October 2022

Organised by Roxana Marcoci, The David Dechman Senior Curator of Photography, with Dana Ostrander, Curatorial Assistant, and Caitlin Ryan, Curatorial Assistant, Department of Photography, MoMA

 

 

Lotte Jacobi (American, 1896-1990) 'Head of the Dancer' 1929

 

Lotte Jacobi (American, 1896-1990)
Head of the Dancer Niura Norskaya
1929
Gelatin silver print
7 1/2 × 9 3/8″ (19.1 × 23.8cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

 

With a focus on people, this is a challenging exhibition that can only scratch the surface of the importance of the photographic work of women artists to the many investigations critical to the promotion of equality and diversity in a complex and male orientated world.

Germaine Krull is always a favourite, as is the work of neutered genius (and my hero), Claude Cahun. Susan Meiselas’s immersive work is also impressive in its “understanding of social, political and global issues and of the potentially complex ethical relationship between photographer and subject”, especially in her early work Carnival Strippers (1972-1975). I also particularly like the sensibility of the Mexican women photographers: sensitive portraits of strong women.

The most cringe worthy photograph that illustrates some of the ills associated with a male-orientated society is Ruth Orkin’s staged but spontaneous photograph, American Girl in Florence, Italy (1951, below) which was “an instant conversation starter about feminism and street harassment long… [and which is] more relevant now than ever for what it truly represents: independence, freedom and self-determination.”

“The photos ran in Cosmopolitan magazine in 1952 in a photo essay, “When You Travel Alone…”, offering tips on “money, men and morals to see you through a gay trip and a safe one.” The article encourages readers to buy ship and train tickets ahead of time. It reminds them to bring their birth certificate and check in with the State Department. The caption on the photo of Craig walking down the street reflects cultural mores of the era.

“Public admiration … shouldn’t fluster you. Ogling the ladies is a popular, harmless and flattering pastime you’ll run into in many foreign countries. The gentlemen are usually louder and more demonstrative than American men, but they mean no harm.”

It’s a far cry from what we tell women these days, but for its time the mere notion of encouraging women to travel alone was progressive. That’s what made the photos so special, Craig says. They offered a rare glimpse of two women – behind and in front of the camera – challenging the era’s gender roles and loving every minute of it.”1

.
Talking of challenging gender roles, I’m rather surprised there aren’t any photographs by Diane Arbus, Cindy Sherman or Francesca Woodman for example, critical women photographers who challenge our orientation towards our selves and the world. Many others could have been included as well. But that is the joy and paradox of collecting: what do you collect and what do you leave out. You have to focus on what you like and what is available.

“Rather than presenting a chronological history of women photographers or a linear account of feminist photography, the exhibition prompts new appraisals and compelling dialogues from a contemporary, intersectional feminist perspective. African-diasporic, queer, and postcolonial / Indigenous artists have brought new mindsets and questions to the canonical narratives of art history. Our Selves will reexamine a host of topics, countering racial and gender invisibility, systemic racial injustice, and colonialism, through a diversity of photographic practices, including portraiture, photojournalism, social documentary, advertising, avant-garde experimentation, and conceptual photography.” (Press release)

Dr Marcus Bunyan

.
Many thankx to the Museum of Modern Art for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

  1. Emanuella Grinberg. “The real story behind ‘An American Girl in Italy’,” on the CNN website March 30, 2017 [Online] Cited 28/08/2022

 

The Museum of Modern Art announces Our Selves: Photographs by Women Artists from Helen Kornblum, an exhibition that will present 90 photographic works by female artists from the last 100 years, on view from April 16 to October 2, 2022. Drawn exclusively from the Museum’s collection, thanks to a transformative gift of photographs from Helen Kornblum in 2021, the exhibition takes as a starting point the idea that the histories of feminism and photography have been intertwined.

 

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Our Selves: Photographs by Women Artists from Helen Kornblum' at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

Installation view of the exhibition 'Our Selves: Photographs by Women Artists from Helen Kornblum' at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

Installation view of the exhibition 'Our Selves: Photographs by Women Artists from Helen Kornblum' at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

Installation view of the exhibition 'Our Selves: Photographs by Women Artists from Helen Kornblum' at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

Installation view of the exhibition 'Our Selves: Photographs by Women Artists from Helen Kornblum' at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

 

Installation views of the exhibition Our Selves: Photographs by Women Artists from Helen Kornblum at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

 

 

How have women artists used photography as a tool of resistance? Our Selves: Photographs by Women Artists from Helen Kornblum reframes restrictive notions of womanhood, exploring the connections between photography, feminism, civil rights, Indigenous sovereignty, and queer liberation. “Society consumes both the good girl and the bad girl,” wrote artist Silvia Kolbowski in 1984. “But somewhere between those two polarities, space must be made for criticality.”

Spanning more than 100 years of photography, the works in this exhibition range from Frances Benjamin Johnston’s early documentary photographs of racially segregated education in turn-of-the-century United States, to a contemporary portrait by Chemehuevi artist Cara Romero that celebrates the specificity of Indigenous art forms. A tribute to the generosity of collector Helen Kornblum, Our Selves features women’s contributions to a diversity of practices, including portraiture, photojournalism, social documentary, avant-garde experimentation, advertising, and performance.

As we continue to reckon with equity and diversity, Our Selves invites viewers to meditate on the artist Carrie Mae Weems’s evocative question: “In one way or another, my work endlessly explodes the limits of tradition. I’m determined to find new models to live by. Aren’t you?”

Text from the MoMA website

 

Alma Lavenson (American, 1897-1989) 'Self-Portrait' 1932

 

Alma Lavenson (American, 1897-1989)
Self-Portrait
1932
Gelatin silver print
9 × 11 7/8″ (22.9 × 30.2cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Germaine Krull (Dutch born Germany, 1897-1985) 'The Hands of the Actress Jenny Burnay' c. 1930

 

Germaine Krull (Dutch born Germany, 1897-1985)
The Hands of the Actress Jenny Burnay
c. 1930
Gelatin silver print
6 1/2 × 8 5/8″ (16.5 × 21.9cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

 

Germaine Krull (Dutch born Germany, 1897-1985)

Germaine Krull was a pioneer in the fields of avant-garde photomontage, the photographic book, and photojournalism, and she embraced both commercial and artistic loyalties. Born in Wilda-Poznań, East Prussia, in 1897, Krull lived an extraordinary life lasting nine decades on four continents – she was the prototype of the edgy, sexually liberated Neue Frau (New Woman), considered an icon of modernity and a close cousin of the French garçonne and the American flapper. She had a peripatetic childhood before her family settled in Munich in 1912. She studied photography from 1916 to 1918 at Bayerische Staatslehranstalt für Lichtbildwesen (Instructional and Research Institute for Photography), and in 1919 opened her own portrait studio. Her early engagement with left-wing political activism led to her expulsion from Munich. Then, on a visit to Russia in 1921, she was incarcerated for her counterrevolutionary support of the Free French cause against Hitler. In 1926, she settled in Paris, where she became friends with artists Sonia and Robert Delaunay and intellectuals André Malraux, Jean Cocteau, Colette, and André Gide, who were also subjects of her photographic portraits.

Krull’s artistic breakthrough began in 1928, when she was hired by the nascent VU magazine, the first major French illustrated weekly. Along with photographers André Kertész and Éli Lotar, she developed a new form of reportage rooted in a freedom of expression and closeness to her subjects that resulted in intimate close-ups, all facilitated by her small-format Icarette, a portable, folding bed camera. During this period, she published the portfolio, Metal (Métal) (1928), a collection of 64 pictures of modernist iron giants, including cranes, railways, power generators, the Rotterdam transporter bridge, and the Eiffel Tower, shot in muscular close-ups and from vertiginous angles. Krull participated in the influential Film und Foto, or Fifo, exhibition (1929-1930), which was accompanied by two books, Franz Roh’s and Jan Tschichold’s Foto-Auge (Photo-Eye) and Werner Gräff’s Es kommt der neue Fotograf! (Here Comes the New Photographer!). Fifo marked the emergence of a new critical theory of photography that placed Krull at the forefront of Neues Sehen or Neue Optik (New Vision) photography, a new direction rooted in exploring fully the technical possibilities of the photographic medium through a profusion of unconventional lens-based and darkroom techniques. After the end of World War II, she traveled to Southeast Asia, and then moved to India, where, after a lifetime dedicated to recording some of the major upheavals of the twentieth century, she decided to live as a recluse among Tibetan monks.

Introduction by Roxana Marcoci, Senior Curator, Department of Photography, 2016

 

Ruth Orkin. 'American Girl in Italy' 1951

 

Ruth Orkin (American, 1921-1985)
American Girl in Florence, Italy
1951
Gelatin silver print
8 1/2 × 11 15/16″ (21.6 × 30.3cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

 

Although this photograph appears to be a street scene caught on the fly-an instance of what Henri Cartier-Bresson called the “decisive moment”  – it was actually staged for the camera by Orkin and her model. “The idea for this picture had been in my mind for years, ever since I had been old enough to go through the experience myself,” Orkin later wrote. While traveling alone in Italy, she met the young woman in the photograph at a hotel in Florence and together they set out to reenact scenes from their experiences as lone travellers. “We were having a hilarious time when this corner of the Piazza della Repubblica suddenly loomed on our horizon,” the photographer recalled. “Here was the perfect setting I had been waiting for all these years… And here I was, camera in hand, with the ideal model! All those fellows were positioned perfectly, there was no distracting sun, the background was harmonious, and the intersection was not jammed with traffic, which allowed me to stand in the middle of it for a moment.” The picture, with its eloquent blend of realism and theatricality, was later published in Cosmopolitan magazine as part of the story “Don’t Be Afraid to Travel Alone.”

Text from the Metropolitan Museum of Art website

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Three Harps' 1935

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Three Harps
1935
Gelatin silver print
9 5/8 × 7 1/2″ (24.4 × 19.1cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Consuelo Kanaga (American, 1894-1978) 'School Girl, St. Croix' 1963

 

Consuelo Kanaga (American, 1894-1978)
School Girl, St. Croix
1963
Gelatin silver print
12 13/16 × 8 15/16″ (32.5 × 22.7cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Gertrud Arndt (German, 1903–2000) 'Untitled (Masked Self-Portrait, Dessau)' 1930

 

Gertrud Arndt (German, 1903–2000)
Untitled (Masked Self-Portrait, Dessau)
1930
Gelatin silver print
9 × 5 5/8 in. (22.9 × 14.3cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

 

Gertrud Arndt (German, 1903–2000)

Gertrud Arndt (born Gertrud Hantschk in Upper Silicia) set out to become an architect, beginning a three-year apprenticeship in 1919 at the architecture firm of Karl Meinhardt in Erfurt, where her family lived at the time. While there, she began teaching herself photography by taking pictures of buildings in town. She also attended courses in typography, drawing, and art history at the Kunstgewerbeschule (School of design). Encouraged by Meinhardt, a friend of Walter Gropius, Arndt was awarded a scholarship to continue her studies at the Bauhaus in Weimar. Enrolled from 1923 to 1927, Arndt took the Vorkurs (foundation course) from László Moholy-Nagy, who was a chief proponent of the value of experimentation with photography. After her Vorkurs, Georg Muche, leader of the weaving workshop, persuaded her to join his course, which then became the formal focus of her studies. Upon graduation, in March 1927, she married fellow Bauhaus graduate and architect Alfred Arndt. The couple moved to Probstzella in Eastern Germany, where Arndt photographed buildings for her husband’s architecture firm.

In 1929, Hannes Meyer invited Alfred Arndt to teach at the Bauhaus, where Arndt focused her energy on photography, entering her period of greatest activity, featuring portraits of friends, still-lifes, and a series of performative self-portraits, as well as At the Masters’ Houses, which shows the influence of her studies with Moholy-Nagy as well as her keen eye for architecture. After the Bauhaus closed, in 1932, the couple left Dessau and moved back to Probstzella. Three years after the end of World War II the family moved to Darmstadt; Arndt almost completely stopped making photographs.

Introduction by Mitra Abbaspour, Associate Curator, Department of Photography, 2014

 

Claude Cahun (Lucy Schwob) (French, 1894-1954) 'M.R.M (Sex)' c. 1929-1930

 

Claude Cahun (Lucy Schwob) (French, 1894-1954)
M.R.M (Sex)
c. 1929-1930
Gelatin silver print
6 × 4 in. (15.2 × 10.2cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

 

Juliet Jacques: I’m Juliet Jacques. I am a writer and filmmaker based in London. You’re looking at a photomontage by the French artist Claude Cahun, entitled M.R.M (Sex). It’s a photomontage of Cahun’s self-portraits.

Claude Cahun was born in 1894 in France into a family of prominent Jewish intellectuals and began making photomontages in 1912 when she was 18. The works were often exploring Cahun’s own identity in terms of gender and sexuality, but also this sense of a complex and fragmented personhood. Nonbinary pronouns, as we’d understand them now, weren’t officially in existence in the 1920s. Cahun actually wrote “Masculine? Feminine? It depends on the situation. Neuter is the only gender that always suits me.” So, I think either she or they is appropriate.

M.R.M was published as one of the illustrations in Cahun’s book Aveux non Avenus in 1930. Throughout the book you see this playing with the possibilities of gender expression that are kind of funny, sometimes melancholic, but are very emotionally complicated and do really speak to a sense of sometimes being trapped by the confines of gender and sometimes finding these very playful and beautiful ways to break out of it.

Artists and writers, we’re supposed to be dreamers, I think, and people who want to come up with a better world. And of course Cahun’s work is really suggesting different possibilities of free expression.

It’s hard to know how Cahun might have felt about being included in an exhibition of women artists. But, I think Cahun definitely deserves a place within this feminist canon, if not a strictly female one.

Transcript of audio from the MoMA website

 

Claude Cahun (Lucy Schwob) (French, 1894-1954) 'Aveux non avenus' (Disavowals or Cancelled Confessions) 1930

 

Claude Cahun (Lucy Schwob) (French, 1894-1954)
Aveux non avenus (Disavowals or Cancelled Confessions)
1930
Illustrated book with photogravures
Cover (closed) approx. 8 11/16 × 6 11/16″ (22 × 17cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

 

Juliet Jacques: My name is Juliet Jacques.

You’re looking at Claude Cahun’s book Aveux non Avenus, which has been translated variously as “denials” or “disavowals” or “cancelled confessions.”

It’s an autobiographical text that doesn’t just refuse the conventions of memoir, it also really refuses to open up to the reader in a clearly understandable way. It’s this mixture of photography and aphorisms and longer prose-poetic passages. It doesn’t have a formalised narrative. It’s rather just exploring the fragmented and somewhat chaotic nature of their own consciousness and what they are able to access.

I’ve just flipped to page 91. Cahun writes:

“Consciousness. The carver. My enthusiasms, my impulses, my little passions were irksome. … Come on, then. … By a process of elimination, what is necessary about me? … The material is badly cut. I want it to be straightened up. A clumsy snip with the scissors. Bach! Let’s even it up on the other side. … A stain? We’ll cover it up. Let’s trim it again. I no longer exist. Perfect. Now nothing can come between us.”

.
The affinity I felt with Cahun is because I ended up doing a lot of writing that got bracketed as confessional or sort of first-person autobiographical writing. You can get yourself into a situation where you’re constantly expected to give away details about your personal life. And what I have always found really interesting about Cahun is the refusal of that trap, even in the project of putting oneself on the page.

I was always looking for queer and trans writers, and Cahun’s work gave me this gender non-conforming take on art that I thought always should have been there.

Transcript of audio from the MoMA website

 

Hulleah J. Tsinhnahjinnie (Native American (Seminole-Muscogee-Navajo)) 'Vanna Brown, Azteca Style' 1990

 

Hulleah J. Tsinhnahjinnie (Native American (Seminole-Muscogee-Navajo))
Vanna Brown, Azteca Style
1990
Photocollage
15 11/16 × 22 13/16″ (39.9 × 58cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

 

Veronica Passalacqua: My name is Veronica Passalacqua, and I’m a curator at the C.N. Gorman Museum at the University of California Davis. My research focus is upon contemporary Native American art with a specialty in photography. This is a work called Vanna Brown, Azteca Style by the Navajo-Tuskegee artist Hulleah Tsinhnahjinnie.

It’s a hand collage that depicts Tsinhnahjinnie’s friend, dressed in her Azteca dancing regalia within the frame of a Philco television set. It was the beginning of a series of works and videos related to a project called NTV, or Native Television. She wanted to create her own vision of what she’d like to see on television.

Curator, Roxana Marcoci: The photograph makes reference to Wheel of Fortune, a televised game show where contestants guess words and phrases one letter at a time. Vanna White has been the show’s co-host for 40 years.

Veronica Passalacqua: Vanna White was always dressed in these elaborate gowns to show the letters of the enduring game show. She was there really as a symbol of the idealised beauty that television was portraying. Tsinhnahjinnie changes the name from Vanna White to Vanna Brown, addressing the beauty that she sees in her friend. What Tsinhnahjinnie wanted to focus on was this notion that you can create these beautiful images when you have a relationship with the sitter.

I’d like to read you a quote by Tsinhnahjinnie: “No longer is the camera held by an outsider looking in, the camera is held with brown hands opening familiar worlds. We document ourselves with a humanising eye, we create new visions with ease, and we can turn the camera to show how we see you.”

Transcript of audio from the MoMA website

 

Laura Gilpin (American, 1881-1979) 'Navajo Weaver' 1933

 

Laura Gilpin (American, 1881-1979)
Navajo Weaver
1933
Platinum print
13 1/8 × 9 3/8 in. (33.3 × 23.8cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Lola Alvarez Bravo (Mexican, 1907-1993) 'Frida Kahlo' c. 1945

 

Lola Alvarez Bravo (Mexican, 1907-1993)
Frida Kahlo
c. 1945
Gelatin silver print
8 3/8 × 6 1/4″ (21.3 × 15.9 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Lucia Moholy (British born Prague, 1894-1989) 'Frau Finsler' 1926

 

Lucia Moholy (British born Prague, 1894-1989)
Frau Finsler
1926
Gelatin silver print
7 7/8 × 10″ (20 × 25.4 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Margaret Bourke-White (American, 1904-1971) 'Woman, Locket, Georgia' 1936

 

Margaret Bourke-White (American, 1904-1971)
Woman, Locket, Georgia
1936
Gelatin silver print
13 × 9 3/4″ (33 × 24.8cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Margrethe Mather (American, 1885-1952) 'Buffie Johnson, Painter' 1933

 

Margrethe Mather (American, 1885-1952)
Buffie Johnson, Painter
1933
Gelatin silver print
3 3/4 × 2 7/8″ (9.5 × 7.3cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Meridel Rubenstein (American, b. 1948) 'Fatman with Edith' 1993

 

Meridel Rubenstein (American, b. 1948)
Fatman with Edith
1993
Palladium print
18 1/2 × 22 1/2″ (47 × 57.2cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

 

Helen Kornblum: I’m Helen Kornblum. If there’s a theme in my collection, I’d say it’s people. My interest in people, meeting people, knowing people, learning about people.

I have felt about my photographs almost like a third child. Each one actually has its own story for me. Where I found them, who led me to them. I’ve just attached myself in different ways to each one.

One, for instance, is Fatman with Edith by Meridel Rubenstein. With this photograph she conflates war with the feminine. She has the inhumanly destructive warhead, the plutonium bomb, called Fatman, dropped on Nagasaki, juxtaposed with a portrait of a woman, Edith Warner, and a nurturing, warm cup of tea.

Curator, Roxana Marcoci: In the early 1940s Robert Oppenheimer, a physicist in charge of The Manhattan Project developed the first atomic bomb.This photograph belongs to a series that explores encounters in New Mexico between indigenous communities and the scientists who created the bomb. These two worlds collided in the home of Edith Warner, who ran a tearoom in Los Alamos.

Helen Kornblum: Oppenheimer knew Edith Warner, who lived near Santa Fe. And when he came to create the bomb at Los Alamos, he asked Edith if he could bring scientists to her home for a place away from the creation of this bomb, and he would come with them for dinner, all during the Manhattan Project.

Roxana Marcoci: By pairing two seemingly dissimilar images, Rubenstein said she hopes “to enlarge the lives of ordinary people, and strip the mythic characters of history down to their ordinariness.”

Transcript of audio from the MoMA website

 

Edith Warner (1893-1951), also known by the nickname “The Woman at Otowi Crossing”, was an American tea room owner in Los Alamos, New Mexico, who is best known for serving various scientists and military officers working at the Los Alamos National Laboratory during the original creation of the atomic bomb as a part of the Manhattan Project. Warner’s influence on the morale and overall attitude of the people there has been noted and written about by various journalists and historians, including several books about her life, a stage play, a photography exhibition, an opera, and a dance.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Rosemarie Trockel (German, b. 1952) 'Untitled' 2004

 

Rosemarie Trockel (German, b. 1952)
Untitled
2004
Chromogenic print
20 3/4 × 19″ (52.7 × 48.3 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Tatiana Parcero (Mexican, b. 1967) 'Interior Cartography #35' 1996

 

Tatiana Parcero (Mexican, b. 1967)
Interior Cartography #35
1996
Chromogenic print and acetate
9 3/8 × 6 3/16 in. (23.8 × 15.7cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

 

Artist, Tatiana Parcero

My name is Tatiana Parcero. I’m from Mexico and I’m a visual artist and a psychologist. The work is called Interior Cartography #35, and belongs to the series of the same name.

Cartography is a science that deals with maps. I am interested in working with the body as a territory, where I can explore different paths at a physical and also in a symbolic level.

I am the one that appears in all the photographs. When I did this specific shot, I wanted to show a moment of introspection and calm. And when you see my hands near my cheeks, I wanted to represent a way to be in touch with myself, not just in a physical way, but in a more spiritual way.

The image superimposed on the face is from the Codex Tudela of the 16th century. The codices are documents that were created by ancient civilisations, like Mayans, Aztecs, that represent the pre-Columbian cultures of Mexico, their amazing universe, and the way that they lived.

When I moved to New York from Mexico, I was feeling a little bit out of place and I wanted to recreate a sense of belonging. The work is a way to connect myself with my country and the ancient cultures that are before me.

I decided to study psychology because I wanted to help people. I wanted to be able to understand emotions and be able to translate personal experiences into images and make them more accessible. It’s important for me to give the viewer several layers so that you can really explore the image and make your own interpretations and reflections. I think art can transform you and take you to a parallel universe. That is where I feel that you can be able to heal and to cure.

Transcript of audio from the MoMA website

 

Lorie Novak (American, b. 1954) 'Self-Portraits' 1987

 

Lorie Novak (American, b. 1954)
Self-Portraits
1987
Chromogenic print
22 1/2 × 18 9/16″ (57.2 × 47.1cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

 

The Museum of Modern Art announces Our Selves: Photographs by Women Artists from Helen Kornblum, an exhibition that will present 90 photographic works by female artists from the last 100 years, on view from April 16 to October 2, 2022. Drawn exclusively from the Museum’s collection, thanks to a transformative gift of photographs from Helen Kornblum in 2021, the exhibition takes as a starting point the idea that the histories of feminism and photography have been intertwined. Our Selves: Photographs by Women Artists from Helen Kornblum is organised by Roxana Marcoci, The David Dechman Senior Curator, with Dana Ostrander, Curatorial Assistant, and Caitlin Ryan, Curatorial Assistant, Department of Photography, MoMA.

Rather than presenting a chronological history of women photographers or a linear account of feminist photography, the exhibition prompts new appraisals and compelling dialogues from a contemporary, intersectional feminist perspective. African-diasporic, queer, and postcolonial / Indigenous artists have brought new mindsets and questions to the canonical narratives of art history. Our Selves will reexamine a host of topics, countering racial and gender invisibility, systemic racial injustice, and colonialism, through a diversity of photographic practices, including portraiture, photojournalism, social documentary, advertising, avant-garde experimentation, and conceptual photography. Highlighting both iconic and rare or lesser-known images, the exhibition’s groupings and juxtapositions of modern and contemporary works will encourage unexpected connections in the Museum’s fifth-floor collection galleries, which are typically devoted to art from the 1880s through the 1940s.

Our Selves will open with a wall of self-portraits and portraits of female artists by such modernist photographers as Lola Álvarez Bravo, Gertrud Arndt, Lotte Jacobi, and Lucia Moholy, alongside contemporary practitioners including Tatiana Parcero, Rosemarie Trockel, and Lorie Novak. Inviting viewers to consider the structural relationship between knowledge and power, Frances Benjamin Johnston’s Penmanship Class (1899) – a depiction of racially segregated education at the turn of the 20th century in the United States – will hang near Candida Höfer’s Deutsche Bucherei Leipzig IX (1997) – a part of Höfer’s series documenting library interiors weighted by forms of social inequality and colonial supremacy. Lorna Simpson’s Details (1996), a portfolio of 21 found photographs, signals how both the camera and language can culturally inscribe the body and reinforce racial and gender stereotypes.

Works by Native artists including Cara Romero and Hulleah J. Tsinhnahjinnie, and non-Native practitioners such as Sharon Lockhart and Graciela Iturbide, explore indigeneity and its relationship to colonial history. Photographs by Flor Garduño, Ana Mendieta, Marta María Pérez Bravo, and Mariana Yampolsky attest to the overlapping histories of colonialism, ethnographic practice, and patriarchy in Latin America.

Our Selves is accompanied by a richly illustrated catalogue that features more than 100 colour and black-and-white photographs. A critical essay by curator Roxana Marcoci asks the question, “What is a Feminist Picture?” and a series of 12 focused essays by Dana Ostrander, Caitlin Ryan, and Phil Taylor address a range of themes, from dance to ecology to perception. The catalogue offers both historical context and critical interpretation, exploring the myriad ways in which different photographic practices can be viewed when looking through a feminist lens.

Press release from the MoMA website

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Our Selves: Photographs by Women Artists from Helen Kornblum' at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

 

Installation view of the exhibition Our Selves: Photographs by Women Artists from Helen Kornblum at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York.

The images below before the next installation image are left to right in the above installation image.

 

Graciela Iturbide (Mexican, b. 1943) 'Mujercita' 1981

 

Graciela Iturbide (Mexican, b. 1943)
Mujercita
1981
Gelatin silver print
10 1/8 × 6 3/4″ (25.7 × 17.1cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Mariana Yampolsky (Mexican, 1925-2002) 'Mujeres Mazahua' 1989

 

Mariana Yampolsky (Mexican, 1925-2002)
Mujeres Mazahua
1989
Gelatin silver print
13 5/8 × 18 1/2″ (34.6 × 47cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Flor Garduño (Mexican, b. 1957) 'Reina (Queen)' 1989

 

Flor Garduño (Mexican, b. 1957)
Reina (Queen)
1989
Gelatin silver print
12 1/4 × 8 3/4″ (31.1 × 22.2cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Barbara Morgan (American, 1900-1992) 'Corn Stalks Growing' 1945

 

Barbara Morgan (American, 1900-1992)
Corn Stalks Growing
1945
Gelatin silver print
12 3/16 × 9″ (31 × 22.9cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Sonya Noskowiak (American born Germany, 1900-1975) 'Plant Detail' 1931

 

Sonya Noskowiak (American born Germany, 1900-1975)
Plant Detail
1931
Gelatin silver print
9 11/16 × 7 1/2″ (24.6 × 19.1cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Agave Design I' 1920s

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Agave Design I
1920
Gelatin silver print
12 7/8 × 9 13/16″ (32.7 × 24.9cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Florence Henri (Swiss born United States, 1893-1982) 'Composition Nature Morte' 1931

 

Florence Henri (Swiss born United States, 1893-1982)
Composition Nature Morte
1931
Gelatin silver print
3 3/8 × 4 1/2″ (8.6 × 11.4cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Alma Lavenson (American, 1897-1989) 'Eucalyptus Leaves' 1933

 

Alma Lavenson (American, 1897-1989)
Eucalyptus Leaves
1933
Gelatin silver print
12 × 9″ (30.5 × 22.9cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Ruth Bernhard (American born Germany, 1905-2006) 'Angel Wings' 1943

 

Ruth Bernhard (American born Germany, 1905-2006)
Angel Wings
1943
Gelatin silver print
9 5/8 × 6 1/4″ (24.4 × 15.9cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Nelly (Elli Sougioultzoglou-Seraidari) (Greek born Turkey, 1899-1998) 'Elizaveta "Lila" Nikolska in the Parthenon, Athens, Greece' November 1930

 

Nelly (Elli Sougioultzoglou-Seraidari) (Greek born Turkey, 1899-1998)
Elizaveta “Lila” Nikolska in the Parthenon, Athens, Greece
November 1930
Gelatin silver print
6 × 8 1/2″ (15.2 × 21.6cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Our Selves: Photographs by Women Artists from Helen Kornblum' at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

 

Installation view of the exhibition Our Selves: Photographs by Women Artists from Helen Kornblum at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

The images below before the next installation image are left to right in the above installation image.

 

Laurie Simmons (American, b. 1949) 'Three Red Petit-Fours' 1990

 

Laurie Simmons (American, b. 1949)
Three Red Petit-Fours
1990
Chromogenic print
23 × 35″ (58.4 × 88.9cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Kati Horna (Mexican, 1912-2000) 'Figurines' c. 1933

 

Kati Horna (Mexican, 1912-2000)
Figurines
c. 1933
Gelatin silver print
8 1/2 × 8″ (21.6 × 20.3 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Dora Maar (French 1907-1997) 'Mannequin in Window' 1935

 

Dora Maar (French 1907-1997)
Mannequin in Window
1935
Gelatin silver print
9 1/2 × 6″ (24.1 × 15.2 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Inge Morath (Austrian, 1923-2002) 'Siesta of a Lottery Ticket Vendor, Plaza Mayor, Madrid' 1955

 

Inge Morath (Austrian, 1923-2002)
Siesta of a Lottery Ticket Vendor, Plaza Mayor, Madrid
1955
Gelatin silver print
7 3/16 × 4 3/4″ (18.3 × 12.1cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Ringl + Pit (German) Grete Stern (Argentine born Germany, 1904-1999) Ellen Auerbach (German, 1906-2004) 'Columbus' Egg' 1930

 

Ringl + Pit (German)
Grete Stern (Argentine born Germany, 1904-1999)
Ellen Auerbach (German, 1906-2004)
Columbus’ Egg
1930
Gelatin silver print
8 3/4 × 7 1/2″ (22.2 × 19.1cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Yva (Else Ernestine Neuländer) (German, 1900-1942) 'Untitled' 1935

 

Yva (Else Ernestine Neuländer) (German, 1900-1942)
Untitled
1935
Gelatin silver print
9 1/16 × 6 11/16″ (23 × 17cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Marie Cosindas (American, 1923-2017) 'Masks, Boston' 1966

 

Marie Cosindas (American, 1923-2017)
Masks, Boston
1966
Dye transfer print
10 × 7″ (25.4 × 17.8cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Kati Horna (Mexican, 1912-2000) 'Man and Candlesticks' c. 1933

 

Kati Horna (Mexican, 1912-2000)
Man and Candlesticks
c. 1933
Gelatin silver print
8 × 7 3/4″ (20.3 × 19.7cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Barbara Probst (German, b. 1964) 'Exposure #78, NYC, Collister and Hubert St.' 2010

 

Barbara Probst (German, b. 1964)
Exposure #78, NYC, Collister and Hubert St.
2010
Two inkjet prints (diptych)
18 3/4 × 28″ (47.6 × 71.1cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

 

Barbara Probst (German, b. 1964)

Artist, Barbara Probst: I am Barbara Probst. I’m an artist working with photography. I’m born in Munich, in Germany, and I live in New York.

I’m interested in photography as a phenomenon that seemingly and supposedly depicts reality. But maybe it is the subjectivity of the photographer, which determines the image. And not the objectivity of the world.

I get a set of pictures from the same moment. By comparing these pictures, it becomes quite clear that the link between reality and photography is very thin and fragile because every picture from this moment gives a different take of this moment.

None of these images is more true or more false than any others. They are equally truthful. The viewpoints and angles and settings of the cameras and the framing and all these things determine the picture.

It’s not what is in front of the camera that determines the picture. It’s the photographer behind the camera that decides how reality is translated into an image.

Audio of Barbara Probst from the video “Elles X Paris Photo: Barbara Probst.” © Fisheye l’Agence 2021

Transcript of audio from the MoMA website

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Our Selves: Photographs by Women Artists from Helen Kornblum' at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

 

Installation view of the exhibition Our Selves: Photographs by Women Artists from Helen Kornblum at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

The images below before the next installation image are left to right in the above installation image.

 

Carrie Mae Weems (American, b. 1953) 'Untitled (Woman and Daughter with Makeup)' 1990

 

Carrie Mae Weems (American, b. 1953)
Untitled (Woman and Daughter with Makeup)
1990
Gelatin silver print
27 3/16 × 27 3/16″ (69.1 × 69.1cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

 

“My work endlessly explodes the limits of tradition.”

.
Carrie Mae Weems

 

What does it mean to bear witness to history? The artist Carrie Mae Weems has asked this question for decades through photography, video, performance, installation, and social practice. For Weems, to examine the past is to imagine a different future. “In one way or another, my work endlessly explodes the limits of tradition,” she declared in an interview with her friend, the photographer Dawoud Bey. “I’m determined to find new models to live by. Aren’t you?”1

Weems was trained as both a dancer and a photographer before enrolling in the folklore studies program at the University of California, Berkeley, in the mid-1980s, where she became interested in the observation methods used in the social sciences. In the early 1990s, she began placing herself in her photographic compositions in an “attempt to create in the work the simultaneous feeling of being in it and of it.”2 She has since called this recurring figure an “alter-ego,” “muse,” and “witness to history” who can stand in for both the artist and audience. “I think it’s very important that as a Black woman she’s engaged with the world around her,” Weems has said, “she’s engaged with history, she’s engaged with looking, with being. She’s a guide into circumstances seldom seen.”3

In her 1990 Kitchen Table series – 20 gelatin silver prints and 14 texts on silkscreen panels – Weems uses her own persona to “respond to a number of issues: woman’s subjectivity, woman’s capacity to revel in her body, and the woman’s construction of herself, and her own image.”4 Weems, or rather her protagonist, inhabits the same intimate domestic interior throughout the series. Anchored around a wooden table illuminated by an overhead light, scenes such as Untitled (Man smoking) and Untitled (Woman and Daughter with Makeup) portray the protagonist alongside a rotating cast of characters (friends, children, lovers) and props (posters, books, playing cards, a birdcage). In Untitled (Woman and Daughter with Makeup), for example, the woman sits at the table with a young girl; they gaze into mirrors at their own reflections, applying lipstick in parallel gestures. The photograph shows that gender is a learned performance, at the same time tenderly centering its Black women subjects.

With projects such as From Here I Saw What Happened and I Cried (1995), the act of witnessing is suggested in the first-person title. The J. Paul Getty Museum commissioned the work in 1994, inviting the artist to respond to 19th-century photographs of African American subjects collected by the lawyer Jackie Napoleon Wilson. In 28 chromogenic photographic prints overlaid with text on glass, Weems appropriated images from a variety of sources: Wilson’s collection, museum and university archives, The National Geographic, and the work of photographers like Walker Evans, Robert Frank, and Garry Winogrand. The artist cropped and reformatted these photographs, adding blue and red tints, text, and circular mats resembling a camera lens. Through this reframing, Weems poses a question about power: Who is doing the looking, and for what reasons?

Among the rephotographed images are four daguerreotypes by photographer J. T. Zealy of enslaved men and women – two father-and-daughter pairs, named Renty, Delia, Jack, and Drana – commissioned as racial types by Swiss naturalist Louis Agassiz in 1850. Weems exposes Agassiz’s racist pseudoscience and the violence of the white Anglo-American gaze through the addition of texts that address the subjects: “You became a scientific profile,” “a negroid type,” “an anthropological debate,” “& a photographic subject.” Discussing the daguerreotypes, the artist has described the sitters as agents of resistance and refusal: “In their anthropological way, most of these photographs were meant to strip the subjects of their humanity. But if you look closely, what you see is the evidence of a contest of wills over contested territory, contested terrain – contested by the by the owner of the Black body and the photographer’s attempt to conquer it vis-à-vis the camera.”5

Caitlin Ryan, Curatorial Assistant, Department of Photography, 2021

 

  1. “Carrie Mae Weems by Dawoud Bey,” BOMB, July 1, 2009, https://bombmagazine.org/articles/carrie-mae-weems/
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Weems, quoted in Carrie Mae Weems: The Kitchen Table Series (Houston: Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, 1996), 6.
  5. Weems to Deborah Willis, “In Conversation with Carrie Mae Weems,” in To Make Their Own Way in the World: The Enduring Legacy of the Zealy Daguerreotypes, eds. Ilisa Barbash, Molly Rogers, and Deborah Willis (Cambridge, MA: Peabody Museum Press; New York, NY: Aperture, 2020), 397.

 

Curator, Roxana Marcocci: We’re looking at a photograph from Carrie Mae Weems’s larger body of work, the Kitchen Table series.

Artist, Carrie Mae Weems: About 1990, I think, I had been really thinking a lot about what it meant to develop your own voice. And so I made this body of work.

It started as a kind of response to my sense of what needed to happen, what needed to be and these ideas about the sort of spaces of domesticity that have historically belonged to women.

Roxana Marcoci: In this image, Weems applies makeup in front of a mirror while a young girl seated in front of another mirror, puts on lipstick and looks at her own reflection. The two enact beauty in a synchronised performance, through posing, mirroring, and self-empowerment.

Carrie Mae Weems: I made them all in my own kitchen, using a single light source hanging over the kitchen table. It just swung open this door of what I could actually do in my own environment. What I’m suggesting really is that the battle around the family, the battle around monogamy, the battle around polygamy, the social dynamics that happens between men and women, that war gets carried on in that space.

The Kitchen Table series would not be simply a voice for African-American women, but more generally for women.

Audio of Carrie Mae Weems in the Art21 digital series Extended Play, “Carrie Mae Weems / ‘The Kitchen Table Series.'” © Art21, Inc. 2011

Transcript of audio from the MoMA website

 

Cara Romero (Native American (Chemehuevi), b. 1977) 'Wakeah' 2018

 

Cara Romero (Native American (Chemehuevi), b. 1977)
Wakeah
2018
Inkjet print
52 × 44″ (132.1 × 111.8cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

 

Artist, Cara Romero: My name is Cara Romero, and this photograph is called Wakeah.

The inspiration for the First American Girl series was a lifetime of seeing Native American people represented in a dehumanised way. My daughter was born in 2006 and I really wanted her self image to be different. But all of the dolls that depict Native American girls were inaccurate. They lacked the detail. They lacked the love. They lacked the historical accuracy. So the series began with Wakeah.

Wakeah is Wakeah Jhane Myers and she is an incredible artist in her own right. She descends from both the Kiowa and Comanche tribes of Oklahoma. We posed Wakeah in the doll box much like you would find on the store shelves, placing all of her cultural accoutrement around her. She is wearing a traditional Southern Buckskin dress. She has a change of moccasins and her fan that she uses in dance. A lot of people ask me about the suitcase, and this is an inside joke between Native people, many of us carry our regalia in a suitcase as a way to keep it safe.

It took five family members over a year to make her regalia that she wears to compete at the pow wow dance. These contemporary pieces of regalia are really here against all odds. They exist through activism, through resistance.

A lot of what I’m doing is constructing these stories about resisting these ideas of being powerless, of being gone. Instead, I’m constructing a story of power and of knowledge and of presence. I want the viewer to fall in love. I want them to see how much I love the people that I’m working with.

Transcript of audio from the MoMA website

 

Catherine Opie (American, b. 1961) 'Angela Scheirl' 1993

 

Catherine Opie (American, b. 1961)
Angela Scheirl
1993
Silver dye bleach print
19 5/16 × 15″ (49.1 × 38.1cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Louise Lawler (American, b. 1947) 'Sappho and Patriarch' 1984

 

Louise Lawler (American, b. 1947)
Sappho and Patriarch
1984
Silver dye bleach print
39 3/4 × 27 1/2″ (101 × 69.9cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Our Selves: Photographs by Women Artists from Helen Kornblum' at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

 

Installation view of the exhibition Our Selves: Photographs by Women Artists from Helen Kornblum at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

The images below before the next installation image are left to right in the above installation image.

 

Candida Höfer (German, b. 1944) 'Deutsche Bücherei Leipzig IX' 1997

 

Candida Höfer (German, b. 1944)
Deutsche Bücherei Leipzig IX
1997
C-print
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Sharon Lockhart (American, b. 1964) 'Untitled' 2010

 

Sharon Lockhart (American, b. 1964)
Untitled
2010
Chromogenic print
37 × 49″ (94 × 124.5cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Our Selves: Photographs by Women Artists from Helen Kornblum' at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

 

Installation view of the exhibition Our Selves: Photographs by Women Artists from Helen Kornblum at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

The images below are left to right in the above installation image.

 

Mary Ellen Mark (American, 1940-2015) 'Tiny, Halloween, Seattle' 1983

 

Mary Ellen Mark (American, 1940-2015)
Tiny, Halloween, Seattle
1983
Gelatin silver print
Image: 13 5/16 × 9″ (33.8 × 22.9cm)
Sheet: 14 × 11″ (35.6 × 27.9cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965) 'Mother and Child, San Joaquin Valley' 1938

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
Mother and Child, San Joaquin Valley
1938
Gelatin silver print
7 × 9 1/2″ (17.8 × 24.1cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Anne Noggle (American, 1922-2005) 'Shirley Condit de Gonzales' 1986

 

Anne Noggle (American, 1922-2005)
Shirley Condit de Gonzales
1986
Gelatin silver print
18 1/8 × 13″ (46 × 33cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Nell Dorr (American, 1893-1988) 'Mother and Child' 1940

 

Nell Dorr (American, 1893-1988)
Mother and Child
1940
Gelatin silver print
13 15/16 × 10 13/16″ (35.4 × 27.5cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Susan Meiselas (American, b. 1948) 'Carnival Strippers' book cover 1975

 

Susan Meiselas (American, b. 1948)
Carnival Strippers
1976
New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
The Museum of Modern Art Library, New York

 

Susan Meiselas (American, b. 1948) 'Tentful of marks, Tunbridge, VT' 1974

 

Susan Meiselas (American, b. 1948)
Tentful of Marks, Tunbridge, Vermont
1974, printed c. 2000
Gelatin silver print
7 11/16 × 11 3/4″ (19.5 × 29.9cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

 

Wary of photography’s power to shape our understanding of social, political and global issues and of the potentially complex ethical relationship between photographer and subject, Susan Meiselas has developed an immersive approach through which she gets to know her subjects intimately. Carnival Strippers is among her earliest projects and the first in which she became accepted by the community she was documenting. Over the summers of 1972 to 1975, she followed an itinerant, small-town carnival, photographing the women who performed in the striptease shows. She captured not only their public performances, but also their private lives. To more fully contextualise these images, Meiselas presents them with audio recordings of interviews with the dancers, giving them voice and a measure of control over the way they are presented.

Additional text from “Seeing Through Photographs online course”, Coursera, 2016

 

Susan Meiselas (American, b. 1948)

Artist, Susan Meiselas: My name is Susan Meiselas. I’m a photographer based in New York.

Carnival Strippers is my first real body of work. The idea of projecting a self to attract a male gaze was completely counter to my sense of culture, what I wanted for myself. So I was fascinated by women who were choosing to do that. I just felt, magnetically, I need to know more.

The feminists of that period were perceiving the girl shows as exploitative institutions that should be closed down. I actually was positioned in the place of feeling these voices should be heard. They should self-define as to who they are and what their economic realities are.

Getting to know the women was very much one by one, obviously I’m in the public fairgrounds making this photograph so there are many other people surrounding me. There weren’t many other cameras. I mean, if we were making this picture today, it’s interesting the differences of how many people would have been with cameras, iPhones, etc. So I don’t think she’s performing for me. She’s performing for the public.

The girl show moves around from town to town. My working process was to be somewhere on a weekend, go back to Boston, which at the time was my base, and process the work and bring back the contact sheets and show whoever was there the following weekend, what the pictures were. And they left little initials saying, I like this one, I don’t like that one.

This negotiated or collaborative space with photography really still fascinates me. It’s a kind of offering, it’s a moment in which someone says, I want you to be here with us. The challenge of making that moment, creating that moment, that’s what still intrigues me, I think, and keeps me engaged with photography.

Transcript of audio from the MoMA website

 

Susan Meiselas (American, b. 1948) 'Traditional Indian dance mask from the town of Monimbó, adopted by the rebels during the fight against Somoza to conceal identity, Nicaragua' 1978

 

Susan Meiselas (American, b. 1948)
Traditional mask used in the popular insurrection, Monimbo, Nicaragua
1978
Chromogenic print
23 1/2 × 15 3/4″ (59.7 × 40cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Traditional Indian dance mask from the town of Monimbó, adopted by the rebels during the fight against Somoza to conceal identity, Nicaragua

 

Susan Meiselas (American, b. 1948) 'A Funeral Procession in Jinotepe for Assassinated Student Leaders. Demonstrators Carry a Photograph of Arlen Siu, an FSLN Guerilla Fighter Killed in the Mountains Three Years Earlier' 1978

 

Susan Meiselas (American, b. 1948)
A Funeral Procession in Jinotepe for Assassinated Student Leaders. Demonstrators Carry a Photograph of Arlen Siu, an FSLN Guerilla Fighter Killed in the Mountains Three Years Earlier
1978
Chromogenic print
15 3/8 × 23 1/4″ (39.1 × 59.1cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

 

“The camera…gives me both a point of connection and a point of separation.”

.
Susan Meiselas

 

“The camera is an excuse to be someplace you otherwise don’t belong,” said the photographer Susan Meiselas. “It gives me both a point of connection and a point of separation.” Meiselas studied anthropology before turning to teaching and photography, and her photographic work has remained firmly rooted in those early interests.

Beginning in 1972, Meiselas spent three consecutive summers documenting women who performed stripteases as part of itinerant, small-town carnivals throughout New England. She not only photographed them at work and during their down time, but she made audio recordings of interviews she conducted with the dancers (and the men who surrounded them), to add context and give her subjects a voice. Meiselas later reflected, “The feminists of that period were perceiving the girls’ shows as exploitative institutions that should be closed down, and so I actually was positioned in the place of feeling these voices should be heard, they should self-define as to who they are and what their economic realities are.”1 Meiselas travelled with the dancers from town to town, eventually becoming accepted by the community of women. This personal connection comes across in the intimacy of the scenes. Her photo book Carnival Strippers2 was published in 1976, the same year that Meiselas was invited to join the international photographic cooperative Magnum Photos.

Over the last 50 years, Meiselas has remained dedicated to getting to know her subjects, and she maintains relationships with them, sometimes returning to photograph them decades after the initial project. One place she has photographed again and again is Nicaragua, starting with the burgeoning Sandinista revolution. From June 1978 to July 1979, she documented the violent end of the regime of dictator Anastasio Somoza Debayle. In 1990 she returned to the country with her book of photographs made at that time, Nicaragua3, and used it as a tool to track down as many subjects of those photographs as she could: “Now I want to retrace my steps, to go back to the photos I took at the time of the insurrection, and search for the people in them. What brought them to cross my path at the moment they did? What’s happened to them since? What do they think now? What do they remember?”4 She gathered their testimonies and co-directed a film, Pictures from a Revolution 5, that explored the Nicaraguan people’s hardships after the revolution. She went back to Nicaragua yet again in 2004, on the 25th anniversary of Somoza’s overthrow, and worked with local communities to install murals of her photographs on the sites where they were taken.6 It is the job of a photojournalist to bear witness, but Meiselas also considers ways in which she can challenge and confront future communities with the scenes she has witnessed.

In 1997, Meiselas completed a six-year-long project about the photographic history of the Kurds, working to piece together a collective memory of people who faced extreme displacement and destruction. She gathered these memories in a book – Kurdistan: In the Shadow of History7 – an exhibition and an online archive that can still be added to today. Throughout this project Meiselas worked with both forensic and historical anthropologists who added their own specialised context; the innumerable oral accounts from the Kurdish people themselves provide a perspective often left out of history books.

Referring to her early studies in anthropology, Meiselas said, “Those very primary experiences of diversity led me to be more curious about the world, putting me into a certain mode of exploration and openness to difference at a young age.” She has long understood the importance of giving a voice to her often little-known and marginalised subjects, and through her work she draws attention to a wide variety of human rights and social justice issues. Meiselas constantly considers the challenging relationship between photographer and subject, and the relationship of images to memory and history, always looking for new cross-disciplinary and collaborative ways to evolve the medium of documentary storytelling.

Jane Pierce, Carl Jacobs Foundation Research Assistant, Department of Photography

 

  1. The Museum of Modern Art, New York, “Seeing Through Photographs,” YouTube video, 5:03. February 13, 2019 https://youtu.be/HHQwAkPj8Bc
  2. Susan Meiselas, Carnival Strippers (New York: Noonday Press, 1976) and a revised second edition with bonus CD (New York: Steidl, 2003).
  3. Susan Meiselas, Nicaragua (New York: Pantheon Books, 1981).
  4. Susan Meiselas, Alfred Guzzetti and Richard P. Rogers, Pictures from a Revolution, DVD (New York: Kino International Corp., 1991).
  5. Susan Meiselas, Alfred Guzzetti, and Richard P. Rogers, Pictures from a Revolution, DVD (New York: Kino International Corp., 1991).
  6. Susan Meiselas, Alfred Guzzetti, and Pedro Linger Gasiglia, Reframing History, DVD (2004).
  7. Susan Meiselas, Kurdistan: In the Shadow of History (New York: Random House, 1997).

 

Frances Benjamin Johnston (American, 1864-1952) 'Penmanship Class' 1899

 

Frances Benjamin Johnston (American, 1864-1952)
Penmanship Class
1899
Platinum print
7 3/8 × 9 3/8 in. (18.7 × 23.8cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

 

Frances Benjamin Johnston (American, 1864-1952)

After setting up her own photography studio in 1894, in Washington, D.C., Frances Benjamin Johnston was described by The Washington Times as “the only lady in the business of photography in the city.”1 Considered to be one of the first female press photographers in the United States, she took pictures of news events and architecture and made portraits of political and social leaders for over five decades. From early on, she was conscious of her role as a pioneer for women in photography, telling a reporter in 1893, “It is another pet theory with me that there are great possibilities in photography as a profitable and pleasant occupation for women, and I feel that my success helps to demonstrate this, and it is for this reason that I am glad to have other women know of my work.”2

In 1899, the principal of the Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute in Virginia commissioned Johnston to take photographs at the school for the 1900 Exposition Universelle in Paris. The Hampton Institute was a preparatory and trade school dedicated to preparing African American and Native American students for professional careers. Johnston took more than 150 photographs and exhibited them in the Exposition Nègres d’Amerique (American Negro Exhibit) pavilion, which was meant to showcase improving race relations in America. The series won the grand prize and was lauded by both the public and the press.

Years later, writer and philanthropist Lincoln Kirstein discovered a leather-bound album of Johnston’s Hampton Institute photographs. He gave the album to The Museum of Modern Art, which reproduced 44 of its original 159 photographs in a book called The Hampton Album, published in 1966. In its preface, Kirstein acknowledged the conflict inherent in Johnston’s images, describing them as conveying the Institute’s goal of assimilating its students into Anglo-American mainstream society according to “the white Victorian ideal as criterion towards which all darker tribes and nations must perforce aspire.”3 The Hampton Institute’s most famous graduate, educator, leader, and presidential advisor Booker T. Washington, advocated for black education and accommodation of segregation policies instead of political pressure against institutionalised racism, a position criticised by anti-segregation activists such as author W. E. B. Du Bois.

Johnston’s pictures neither wholly celebrate nor condemn the Institute’s goals, but rather they reveal the complexities of the school’s value system. This is especially clear in her photographs contrasting pre- and post-Hampton ways of living, including The Old Well and The Improved Well (Three Hampton Grandchildren). In both images, black men pump water for their female family members. The old well system is represented by an aged man, a leaning fence, and a wooden pump that tilts against a desolate sky, while the new well is handled by an energetic young boy in a yard with a neat fence, a thriving tree, and two young girls dressed in starched pinafores. Johnston’s photographs have prompted the attention of artists like Carrie Mae Weems, who has incorporated the Hampton Institute photographs into her own work to explore what Weems described as “the problematic nature of assimilation, identity, and the role of education.”4

Johnston’s photographs of the Hampton Institute were only a part of her long and productive career. Having started out by taking society and political portraits, she later extensively photographed gardens and buildings, hoping to encourage the preservation of architectural structures that were quickly disappearing. Her pictures documenting the changing landscape of early-20th-century America became sources for historians and conservationists and led to her recognition by the American Institute for Architects (AIA). At a time when photography was often thought of as scientific in its straightforwardness, Johnston recognised its expressive power. As she wrote in 1897, “It is wrong to regard photography as purely mechanical. Mechanical it is, up to a certain point, but beyond that there is great scope for individual and artistic expression.”5

Introduction by Kristen Gaylord, Beaumont and Nancy Newhall Curatorial Fellow, Department of Photography, 2016

 

  1. “Washington Women with Brains and Business,” The Washington Times, April 21, 1895, 9.
  2. Clarence Bloomfield Moore, “Women Experts in Photography,” The Cosmopolitan XIV.5 (March 1893), 586.
  3. Lincoln Kirstein, “Introduction,” in The Hampton Album: 44 photographs by Frances B. Johnston from an album of Hampton Institute (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 1966), 10.
  4. Quoted in Denise Ramzy and Katherine Fogg, “Interview: Carrie Mae Weems,” Carrie Mae Weems: The Hampton Project (New York: Aperture, 2000), 78.
  5. Frances Benjamin Johnston, “What a Woman Can Do with a Camera,” The Ladies’ Home Journal (September 1897): 6-7.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Our Selves: Photographs by Women Artists from Helen Kornblum' at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

Installation view of the exhibition 'Our Selves: Photographs by Women Artists from Helen Kornblum' at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

 

Installation views of the exhibition Our Selves: Photographs by Women Artists from Helen Kornblum at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

 

 

The Museum of Modern Art
11 West 53 Street
New York, NY 10019
Phone: (212) 708-9400

Opening hours:
10.30am – 5.30pm
Open seven days a week

MoMA website

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03
Jul
22

Exhibition: ‘George Tice Lifework: A Tribute, Photographs 1953-2013’ at Joseph Bellows Gallery, La Jolla, California

Exhibition dates: 21st June – 30th July 2022

 

George Tice (American, b. 1938) 'Petit's Mobil Station, Cherry Hill, New Jersey' 1974

 

George Tice (American, b. 1938)
Petit’s Mobil Station, Cherry Hill, New Jersey
1974
Gelatin silver print
8 x 10 inches

 

 

I have always loved the work of George Tice. I have one of his photographs in my collection. I think his work is very underrated.

Tice’s consumate control of the construction of the image plane never gets in the way of the elemental, eternal, and magical aspects of the photograph.

Photographers such as Tice, and Atget, have an innate ability to place the camera in such as position as to reveal the subject matter in a new light. More intuitive, more sensitive to other ways of seeing, these great photographers look at the world from a different point of view.

In this posting, the hovering spaceship that is Petit’s Mobil Station, Cherry Hill, New Jersey (1974, above) is a superb example of this … almost hallucinatory feeling in the image. Other mesmerising photographs include the Cubist Houses and Water Towers, Moorestown, New Jersey (1973, below) and Industrial Landscape, Kearny, New Jersey (1973, below) with its acknowledgment of Alfred Stieglitz’s The Hand of Man (1902, below). Notice how Tice lowers the level of his camera when compared to Stieglitz’s photograph, thus raising the horizon line, so we now follow the bare, ascending train tracks to the massed stacks of the barren industrial landscape instead of looking down on the scene as in The Hand of Man. Here is a master of previsualisation at work.

Other photographs have already been seen in postings on Art Blart, but it is always a pleasure to look at George Tice’s work – especially his dusk and night time photographs such as New International Cinema, New Brunswick, New Jersey (1974, below), Steve’s Diner, Route 130, North Brunswick, New Jersey (1974, below) and Ideal Diner, Perth Amboy, New Jersey (1980, below). There are hints of the intimacies of Walker Evans and the clinical observations of Bernd and Hiller Becker in Tice’s work, but somehow he always makes images which possess his own signature, his own creative writing.

Following on from last week’s posting where I was banging on about the “spiritual” in contemporary photography (and by “spiritual” I mean an energy and feeling for subject matter captured in the negative and then revealed in the image), the photographs I have presented by Tice in this posting are a perfect example of this alternate perspective. As he observes, “The great difficulty of what I attempt is seeing beyond the moment; the everydayness of life gets in the way of the eternal.”

Dr Marcus Bunyan

.
Many thankx to Joseph Bellows Gallery for allowing me to publish the photograph in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

“It takes the passage of time before an image of a commonplace subject can be assessed. The great difficulty of what I attempt is seeing beyond the moment; the everydayness of life gets in the way of the eternal.”

.
George Tice

 

 

George Tice (American, b. 1938) 'Houses and Water Towers, Moorestown, New Jersey' 1973

 

George Tice (American, b. 1938)
Houses and Water Towers, Moorestown, New Jersey
1973
Gelatin silver print
11 x 14 inches

 

George Tice (American, b. 1938) 'Industrial Landscape, Kearny, New Jersey' 1973

 

George Tice (American, b. 1938)
Industrial Landscape, Kearny, New Jersey
1973
Gelatin silver print
8 x 10 inches

 

Alfred Stieglitz (American, 1864-1946) 'The Hand of Man' 1902

 

Alfred Stieglitz (American, 1864-1946)
The Hand of Man
1902
Photogravure
24.1 × 31.8cm (9 1/2 × 12 1/2 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

 

A locomotive engine steams toward the camera on its barely visible tracks, wearing a billowing black cloud of smoke like a plumed hat. The criss-crossing lines of tracks beside it snake off toward the horizon, and the telephone poles at the left appear to be making the same march. Alfred Stieglitz’s composition is a treatise on the importance of the machine in the modern Industrial Age. The title of the photograph, The Hand of Man, sets up a comparison between the machine that is depicted and the human artistic impulse that created the image. Stieglitz reproduced this photograph in the January 1903 issue of Camera Work, a journal that he both founded and edited. In the early 1930s he returned to the image and printed additional photographs.

Text from the Google Arts and Culture website

 

George Tice (American, b. 1938) 'Railroad Bridge, High Bridge, New Jersey' 1974

 

George Tice (American, b. 1938)
Railroad Bridge, High Bridge, New Jersey
1974
Gelatin silver print
8 x 10 inches

 

George Tice (American, b. 1938) 'Rooftops, 21st and King Street, Paterson, New Jersey' 1969

 

George Tice (American, b. 1938)
Rooftops, 21st and King Street, Paterson, New Jersey
1969
Vintage gelatin silver print
16 x 20 inches

 

George Tice (American, b. 1938) 'Tenement Rooftops, Hoboken, New Jersey' 1974

 

George Tice (American, b. 1938)
Tenement Rooftops, Hoboken, New Jersey
1974
Vintage gelatin silver print
8 x 10 inches

 

George Tice (American, b. 1938) 'Pulaski Skyway, Jersey City, New Jersey' 1974

 

George Tice (American, b. 1938)
Pulaski Skyway, Jersey City, New Jersey
1974
Vintage gelatin silver print
8 x 10 inches

 

George Tice (American, b. 1938) 'Drawbridge, Morgan, New Jersey' 1973

 

George Tice (American, b. 1938)
Drawbridge, Morgan, New Jersey
1973
Vintage gelatin silver print
8 x 10 inches

 

 

The gallery’s current exhibition is a tribute to the lifework of George Tice, including many vintage prints of both famous and lesser-known images. Signed copies of his new book, Lifework, 1953-2013, are also available.

Tice is drawn to vestiges of American culture on the verge of extinction-from people in rural or small-town communities to suburban buildings and neighbourhoods that are often in decline. Although he has photographed throughout the Northwestern United States, he is best known for pictures of his native New Jersey, and the impeccable quality of his black-and-white prints.

Tice was born and raised in Newark, New Jersey – the state in which his ancestors had settled generations earlier. At fourteen, he joined a camera club. A turning point in his self-training happened two years later when a professional photographer critiquing club members’ work praised his picture of an alleyway. Tice briefly studied commercial photography at Newark Vocational and Technical High School; he then joined the Navy. A published image he made of an explosion aboard an American ship caught the eye of photographer Edward Steichen, who purchased it for The Museum of Modern Art. For about a decade, Tice worked as a portrait photographer and helped establish a gallery. That success enabled him to concentrate on personal projects.

In the 1960s, Tice shifted from smaller camera formats to larger ones, which enabled him to craft carefully toned and detailed prints. He portrayed traditional Amish and Shaker communities, as well as the hard lives of fishermen in Maine. In the 1970s, Tice began exploring his home state. Those photographs formed the beginnings of his Urban Landscapes series, which he worked on until the year 2000.

Text from the Joseph Bellows Gallery website

 

George Tice (American, b. 1938) 'Strand Theater, Keyport, New Jersey' 1973

 

George Tice (American, b. 1938)
Strand Theater, Keyport, New Jersey
1973
Gelatin silver print
16 x 20 inches

 

George Tice (American, b. 1938) 'New International Cinema, New Brunswick, New Jersey' 1974

 

George Tice (American, b. 1938)
New International Cinema, New Brunswick, New Jersey
1974
Vintage gelatin silver print
8 x 10 inches

 

George Tice (American, b. 1938) 'Ideal Diner, Perth Amboy, New Jersey' 1980

 

George Tice (American, b. 1938)
Ideal Diner, Perth Amboy, New Jersey
1980
Gelatin silver print
11 x 14 inches

 

George Tice (American, b. 1938) 'Steve's Diner, Route 130, North Brunswick, New Jersey' 1974

 

George Tice (American, b. 1938)
Steve’s Diner, Route 130, North Brunswick, New Jersey
1974
Vintage gelatin silver print
16 x 20 inches

 

George Tice (American, b. 1938) 'Palace Funhouse, Ashbury Park, New Jersey' 1995

 

George Tice (American, b. 1938)
Palace Funhouse, Ashbury Park, New Jersey
1995
Gelatin silver print
16 x 20 inches

 

George Tice (American, b. 1938) 'Lexington Avenue, Passaic, New Jersey' 1973

 

George Tice (American, b. 1938)
Lexington Avenue, Passaic, New Jersey
1973
Vintage gelatin silver print
8 x 10 inches

 

George Tice (American, b. 1938) 'Goldy Pharmacy, Mount Holly, New Jersey' 1974

 

George Tice (American, b. 1938)
Goldy Pharmacy, Mount Holly, New Jersey
1974
vintage gelatin silver print
8 x 10 inches

 

George Tice (American, b. 1938) 'Gar's Bakery and Leisure Laundry, Newark, New Jersey' 1974

 

George Tice (American, b. 1938)
Gar’s Bakery and Leisure Laundry, Newark, New Jersey
1974
Vintage gelatin silver print
8 x 10 inches

 

George Tice (American, b. 1938) 'Dari O' Lite, Wood Avenue, Linden, New Jersey' 1973

 

George Tice (American, b. 1938)
Dari O’ Lite, Wood Avenue, Linden, New Jersey
1973
Vintage gelatin silver print
8 x 10 inches

 

George Tice (American, b. 1938) 'Jimmy's Bar and Grill, Newark, New Jersey' 1973

 

George Tice (American, b. 1938)
Jimmy’s Bar and Grill, Newark, New Jersey
1973
Gelatin silver print
8 x 10 inches

 

George Tice (American, b. 1938) 'Hudson's Fish Market, Atlantic City, New Jersey' 1973

 

George Tice (American, b. 1938)
Hudson’s Fish Market, Atlantic City, New Jersey
1973
Vintage gelatin silver print
8 x 10 inches

 

George Tice (American, b. 1938) 'Houses, Ocean Grove, New Jersey' 1974

 

George Tice (American, b. 1938)
Houses, Ocean Grove, New Jersey
1974
Vintage gelatin silver print
8 x 10 inches

 

George Tice (American, b. 1938) 'Dorn's Photoshop, Red Bank, New Jersey' 1999

 

George Tice (American, b. 1938)
Dorn’s Photoshop, Red Bank, New Jersey
1999
Gelatin silver print
16 x 20 inches

 

 

Joseph Bellows Gallery
7661 Girrard Avenue
La Jolla, California
Phone: 858 456 5620

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Friday, 10am – 5pm, and Saturday by appointment

Joseph Bellows Gallery website

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05
Jun
22

Exhibition: ‘Imogen Cunningham: A Retrospective’ at the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

Exhibition dates: 8th March – 12th June 2022

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'On Mount Rainer' 1915

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
On Mount Rainer
1915
Platinum print
18.4 × 23.4cm (7 1/4 × 9 3/16 in.)
Getty Museum
© Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

 

This is the second posting on this magnificent exhibition on the work of the American photographer Imogen Cunningham (1883-1976), this time its iteration at the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles. Cunningham, whose broad expanse of work stretches from Pictorialism through avant-garde to Group f/64 modernism, has for too long been underrated in the pantheon of 20th century photographic stars.

In this posting there are 20 or so new images from the exhibition, including contributions from luminaries and friends such as Minor White, Edward Weston, Lisette Model and Dorothea Lange. Of interest is the close framing of the portraits (for example see Sonya Noskowiak 1928, below) and, with these media images, the ability to see the placement and size of the photographic print on the supporting backing card.

I particularly respond to the tonality and texture of the plant photographs and Imogen’s sensitivity to their form and structure.

My favourite photograph in the posting is an image of Cunningham’s I have never seen before – the wonderful late work, Aiko’s Hands (1971, below). The Stieglitz hands, the suspended leaf like Minor White, the message in the water…

There are parts of this image that are a quiet metaphor, but the overall impression is not. It talks directly and immediately to the viewer.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

.
Many thanks to the J. Paul Getty Museum for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image. See the posting on this exhibition when it was at the Seattle Art Museum.

 

In a career that spanned seventy years, Imogen Cunningham created a large and diverse body of work – from portraits, to nudes, to florals, and to street photographs. In a field dominated by men, she was one of a handful of women who helped to shape early modernist photography in America. This exhibition seeks to acknowledge her stature as equivalent to that of her male peers and to reevaluate her enormous contribution to twentieth century photographic history.

 

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Mrs. Walsh and Middie at the Window' 1907-1908

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Mrs. Walsh and Middie at the Window
1907-1908
Platinum print
10.6 × 15.7cm (4 3/16 × 6 3/16 in.)
© The Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
The Dream / New-san-Koburi
about 1910
Platinum print
22.7 × 16.2cm (8 15/16 × 6 3/8 in.)
© The Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Roi Partridge, Etcher' 1915

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Roi Partridge, Etcher
1915
Platinum print
20.6 × 15.5cm (8 1/8 × 6 1/8 in.)
Getty Museum
© Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

 

The Wood Beyond the World

After her graduation from the University of Washington, Cunningham took a job in the studio of photographer and ethnologist Edward S. Curtis. She learned the platinum printing process there, and received a grant that allowed her to continue her studies in Dresden, Germany. On her return to Seattle, she began making soft-focus platinum prints with an ethereal dreamlike quality. Her work in this period was influenced by the Pre-Raphaelite movement in art and literature, which called for renewal within the Victorian art establishment through spiritualism and an enhanced connection with nature. An epic tale set in a medieval forest, The Wood Beyond the World (1894) by William Morris, a leading figure in the movement, particularly sparked her imagination.

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Wood Beyond the World 1' 1910

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Wood Beyond the World 1
1910
Platinum print
Getty Museum
© The Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'In the Wood / Voice of the Wood' 1910

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
In the Wood / Voice of the Wood
1910
Platinum print
19.8 × 19.1cm (7 13/16 × 7 1/2 in.)
© The Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Amaryllis' 1933

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Amaryllis
1933
Gelatin silver print
Getty Museum
© The Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Aloe' 1925

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Aloe
1925
Gelatin silver print
20.8 × 16.5cm (8 3/16 × 6 1/2 in.)
Getty Museum
© Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

 

In Her Garden

After Cunningham moved her family to San Francisco in 1917, she turned away from soft-focus images and began to make sharply delineated pictures. She cultivated a garden, growing plants and flowers for a series of botanical studies, all while taking care of her three young sons. In 1929 the prominent photographer Edward Weston recommended that ten of Cunningham’s photographs be included in the seminal exhibition Film und Foto in Stuttgart, Germany. Although the show did not bring her financial success, it garnered international recognition for her as a leading American modernist photographer.

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Hen and Chickens' 1929

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Hen and Chickens
1929
Gelatin silver print
25.2 × 24.6cm (9 15/16 × 9 11/16 in.)
Getty Museum
© Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Flax' 1926

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Flax
1926
Gelatin silver print
23.5 × 16.1cm (9 1/4 × 6 5/16 in.)
Getty Museum
© Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Banana Plant' 1925-1929

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Banana Plant
1925-1929
Gelatin silver print
29.5 × 22.2cm (11 5/8 × 8 3/4 in.)
The Art Institute of Chicago, Julien Levy Collection
Gift of Jean Levy and the estate of Julien Levy
© Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Triangles' 1928

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Triangles
1928
Gelatin silver print
9.7 × 7.1cm (3 13/16 × 2 13/16 in.)
Getty Museum
© Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Two Callas' 1925-1929

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Two Callas
1925-1929
Gelatin silver print
30 × 22.6cm (11 13/16 × 8 7/8 in.)
The Art Institute of Chicago, Julien Levy Collection
Gift of Jean Levy and the estate of Julien Levy
© Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Calla Lily (Black and White Lily)' 1925-1933

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Calla Lily (Black and White Lily)
1925-1933
Gelatin silver print
30 × 23.5 cm (11 13/16 × 9 1/4 in.)
© The Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Tower of Jewels' 1925

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Tower of Jewels
1925
Gelatin silver print
30.5 × 23.8cm
UC Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive

 

Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984) '[Dogwood Blossoms, Yosemite National Park]' Negative about 1938; print 1941

 

Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984)
[Dogwood Blossoms, Yosemite National Park]
Negative about 1938; print 1941
Gelatin silver print
16.8 × 11.4cm (6 5/8 × 4 1/2 in.)
© 2014 The Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) '[Sonya Noskowiak]' 1928

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
[Sonya Noskowiak]
1928
Gelatin silver print
8.9 × 7.6cm (3 1/2 × 3 in.)
© The Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Martha Graham, Dancer' 1931

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Martha Graham, Dancer
1931
Gelatin silver print
18.5 × 25.2cm (7 5/16 × 9 15/16 in.)
Getty Museum
Gift of Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser
© Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Frida Kahlo Rivera, Painter' 1931

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Frida Kahlo Rivera, Painter
1931
Gelatin silver print
Getty Museum, Gift of Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser
© The Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

 

On the Portrait

When asked to describe the requirements for a successful portrait photographer, Cunningham replied, “You must be able to gain an understanding at short notice and at close range of the beauties of character, intellect, and spirit, so you can draw out the best qualities and make them show in the face of the sitter.” She would often engage her sitters in conversation until they relaxed, or ask them to think of the nicest thing they could imagine. She resisted indulging their vanity, however, and “face-lifting” was her word for the type of portrait work that required beautification – in her estimation an obstacle to a good likeness.

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Self-Portrait with Korona View' 1933

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Self-Portrait with Korona View
1933
Gelatin silver print
10.2 × 8.4cm (4 × 3 5/16 in.)
© Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965) 'Waiting for Work on Edge of the Pea Field, Holtville, Imperial Valley, California' February 1937 

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
Waiting for Work on Edge of the Pea Field, Holtville, Imperial Valley, California
February 1937
Gelatin silver print
20.5 × 19.2 cm (8 1/16 × 7 9/16 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

 

“HUMAN EROSION [all underlined] / Erosion of the soil has its counterpart in erosion / of our society. / The one wastes natural resources; / the other human resources / Employment is intermittent. Jobs are precarious and / annual income is low. / Waited weeks for the maturity of 1937 winter pea / crop, which froze; then more weeks until maturity / of second crop. / Near Hollville,California / February 1937.”

 

Lisette Model (American born Austria, 1901-1983) 'Woman with Veil, San Francisco' 1949

 

Lisette Model (American born Austria, 1901-1983)
Woman with Veil, San Francisco
1949
Gelatin silver print
34.9 x 27cm
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Angel Island' 1952

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Angel Island
1952
Gelatin silver print
19.3 x 19.3cm
© Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Stan, San Francisco' 1959

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Stan, San Francisco
1959
Gelatin silver print
24.2 × 17.9cm (9 1/2 × 7 1/16 in.)
© Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

Edward Weston (American, 1886-1958) 'Armco Steel' 1922

 

Edward Weston (American, 1886-1958)
Armco Steel
1922
Palladium print
24.4 × 19.4cm (9 5/8 × 7 5/8 in.)
© 1981 Arizona Board of Regents, Center for Creative Photography

 

 

West Coast Photography

In 1932 Imogen Cunningham, along with Ansel Adams, John Paul Edwards, Sonya Noskowiak, Henry Swift, Willard Van Dyke, and Edward Weston – all San Francisco Bay Area photographers – helped found Group f/64. (They adopted the name from the aperture setting on a large-format camera that would yield the greatest depth of field, making a photograph equally sharp from foreground to background.) The goal of this loosely formed association was to promote a modernist style through sharply focused images created with a West Coast perspective or sense of place. The works presented in this gallery, created by Cunningham’s closest colleagues – all contributors to the Group f/64 legacy – demonstrate how the influence they had on one another defined the future of West Coast photography.

 

Edward Weston (American, 1886-1958) 'Bananas and Orange' 1927

 

Edward Weston (American, 1886-1958)
Bananas and Orange
1927
Gelatin silver print
Getty Museum
© 1981 Arizona Board of Regents, Center for Creative Photography

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Aiko's Hands' 1971

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Aiko’s Hands
1971
Gelatin silver print
27.2 × 34.7cm (10 11/16 × 13 11/16 in.)
Getty Museum
Gift of Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser
© Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

Minor White (American, 1908–1976) 'Nude Foot, San Francisco' 1947

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Nude Foot, San Francisco
Negative 1947; print 1975
Gelatin silver print
21.2 × 27cm (8 3/8 × 10 5/8 in.)
Reproduced with permission of the Minor White Archive, Princeton University Art Museum. © Trustees of Princeton University
Gift of Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Dancer, Mills College' 1929

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Dancer, Mills College
1929
Gelatin silver print
21.7 × 18.7cm (8 9/16 × 7 3/8 in.)
Getty Museum
© Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Snake' 1929

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Snake
1929
Gelatin silver print
19.7 × 16.5cm (7 3/4 × 6 1/2 in.)
The Art Institute of Chicago
Julien Levy Collection, Gift of Jean and Julien Levy
© Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Gertrude Stein, Writer' 1934

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Gertrude Stein, Writer
1934
Gelatin silver print
Getty Museum
© The Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

 

A Parting of Ways

In 1934 Cunningham’s marriage to Roi Partridge ended in divorce. Their three teenage boys, Gryffyd, Rondal, and Padraic, remained in the family home with their mother until they finished high school. Cunningham never remarried, and although she received the house as part of her settlement, the divorce was the beginning of three decades of financial difficulties. Without Partridge, Cunningham had to pick up the pace of her work to stay afloat. She took more commissions, made more portraits, and began teaching portrait photography to students in her home. Despite the added stress, Cunningham sought out ways to challenge herself.

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Cornish School Trio 2' 1935

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Cornish School Trio 2
1935
Gelatin silver print
22.9 × 19.1cm (9 × 7 1/2 in.)
© Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Pentimento' 1973

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Pentimento
1973
Gelatin silver print
18.3 × 22.4cm (7 3/16 × 8 13/16 in.)
Getty Museum
Gift of Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser
© Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'A Man Ray Version of Man Ray' 1961

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
A Man Ray Version of Man Ray
1961
Gelatin silver print
23.5 × 16.3cm (9 1/4 × 6 7/16 in.)
Getty Museum
Gift of Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser
© Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Double Image, Sutter St. and Fillmore' c. 1947

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Double Image, Sutter St. and Fillmore
c. 1947
Gelatin silver print
Collection of the Oakland Museum of California, Gift of the Junior League of Oakland
© The Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

 

Into the Street

In 1934, while in New York, Cunningham made what she called her first “stolen pictures,” documentary street photographs that she took while trying to hide herself and her camera from view. Her interest in street photography was renewed in 1946 when she met Lisette Model while they were both teaching at the California School of Fine Arts (now the San Francisco Art Institute). Cunningham’s candid depictions of her subjects have often been described as gentler and more sympathetic than those by many of her contemporaries. Her “stolen pictures” capture people as they are and not how they look when they know they are being photographed.

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Tea at Foster's, San Francisco' 1940s

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Tea at Foster’s, San Francisco
1940s
Gelatin silver print
19.1 × 18.7cm (7 1/2 × 7 3/8 in.)
Seattle Art Museum
Gift of John H. Hauberg
© Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Self-Portrait with Grandchildren in Funhouse' 1955

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Self-Portrait with Grandchildren in Funhouse
1955
Gelatin silver print
22.2 × 18.5cm (8 3/4 × 7 5/16 in.)
Getty Museum
© Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

 

One of the greatest photographers of the 20th century, Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) enjoyed a career that spanned three-quarters of a century, creating a large and diverse body of work that underscored her vision, versatility, and commitment to the medium.

The first major retrospective in the United States in more than 35 years, Imogen Cunningham: A Retrospective brings together her insightful portraits, elegant flower and plant studies, poignant street pictures, and groundbreaking nudes in a visual celebration of Cunningham’s enormous contributions to the history of photography.

“Despite Cunningham’s exceptional achievements as a photographic artist, her work has not received the attention accorded her male counterparts,” says Timothy Potts, Maria Hummer-Tuttle and Robert Tuttle Director of the J. Paul Getty Museum. “Though struggling to meet the demands of family and career, she emerged by the second half of the 1920s as one of the most important and innovative modernist photographers in America, collaborating with leading practitioners, mentoring novices, and actively engaging with contemporary controversies in modern art. This exhibition and publication will provide the spotlight on her contribution to 20th-century photography that she so richly deserves.”

Cunningham was initially self-taught, learning the fundamentals of photography from the instructions that came with her first camera. After graduating from the University of Washington, she established a portrait studio in Seattle and began making soft-focus photographs. Her work in this period was influenced by the Pre-Raphaelite movement in art and literature. In 1915, Cunningham married and started a family. After she moved her family to San Francisco in 1917, she turned away from soft-focus images and began making a series of sharply delineated botanical studies.

In 1932 Cunningham, along with Ansel Adams, John Paul Edwards, Sonya Noskowiak, Henry Swift, Willard Van Dyke, and Edward Weston – all San Francisco Bay Area photographers – helped found Group f/64. This loosely formed association promoted a modernist style through sharply focused images created with a West Coast perspective and sense of place.

From the mid-1940s forward, Cunningham could often be seen roaming the streets of San Francisco with her Rolleiflex, making environmental portraits of the city’s inhabitants. Her enlightened attitude about her place in the world extended to her relationships with people of different racial backgrounds and sexual orientations, which broke down social barriers while enriching and diversifying her oeuvre. Cunningham’s last major project, a series of portraits of older people, was started at age 92 and published posthumously in the book After Ninety: Imogen Cunningham in 1977. The project reflected her determination to keep active and provided a way to come to grips with being a nonagenarian herself.

Cunningham was a woman of exceptional intelligence and talent, yet competing in a male-dominated profession posed a formidable challenge. She felt disparaged by some of her male colleagues, who occasionally downplayed her talent and influence. As a bulwark against the stress, she joined San Francisco Women Artists, a group organised to promote, support, and expand the representation of women in the arts. Over the years Cunningham served as a resource for female artists such as Laura Andreson, Ruth Asawa, Alma Lavenson, Laura Gilpin, Dorothea Lange, Consuelo Kanaga, and Merry Renk, among others, providing advice, moral support, and essential connections throughout the art and business worlds.

“Cunningham continually sought out new opportunities to grow, learn, and change as an artist and a person” says Paul Martineau, curator of photographs at the Getty Museum, and curator of the exhibition. “She readily admitted that she was never fully satisfied with anything and considered self-improvement, in all its forms, her life’s work.”

Imogen Cunningham: A Retrospective is organised by the Getty Museum, Los Angeles and curated by Paul Martineau, associate curator of Photographs. Major support from Jordan Schnitzer and the Harold & Arlene Schnitzer CARE Foundation. Accompanying the exhibition is a lavishly illustrated companion book, Imogen Cunningham: A Retrospective.

Press release from the J. Paul Getty Museum website

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Ruth Asawa, Sculptor' 1952

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Ruth Asawa, Sculptor
1952
Gelatin silver print
Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Gift of Ruth Asawa and Albert Lanier
© The Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

 

A Network of Women

Cunningham was a woman of exceptional intelligence and talent, yet competing in a male-dominated profession posed a formidable challenge, particularly after Partridge divorced her in 1934 and she struggled to support herself. To make matters worse, Cunningham felt disparaged by some of her male colleagues, who occasionally downplayed her talent and influence. As a bulwark against the stress, Cunningham joined San Francisco Women Artists, a group organised to promote, support, and expand the role of women in the arts. Over the years Cunningham served as a resource for female artists such as Laura Andresen, Ruth Asawa, Alma Lavenson, Laura Gilpin, Dorothea Lange, Consuelo Kanaga, and Merry Renk, among others, providing advice, moral support, and essential connections throughout the art and business worlds.

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'The Unmade Bed' 1957

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
The Unmade Bed
1957
Gelatin silver print
27.1 × 34.3cm (10 11/16 × 13 1/2 in.)
Getty Museum
Gift of Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser
© Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'Sandblaster, San Francisco' Negative 1949; print 1975

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Sandblaster, San Francisco
Negative 1949; print 1975
Gelatin silver print
21.6 × 25.1cm (8 1/2 × 9 7/8 in.)
Reproduced with permission of the Minor White Archive, Princeton University Art Museum. © Trustees of Princeton University
Gift of Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser

 

 

The Light Within

In 1964 the photographer and editor Minor White devoted an issue of the influential magazine Aperture to Cunningham. In an elegant tribute, he described his own experience of the spell she cast over her subjects as a kind of inner light. The first publication dedicated entirely to Cunningham’s work, this issue of Aperture contained a selection of forty-four images dating from 1912 to 1963, representing her wide range of genres and styles.

Between 1965 and 1973 Cunningham served as a visiting photography instructor at the California College of Arts and Crafts, Oakland; Humboldt State College, Arcata; the San Francisco Art Institute; and San Francisco State College. In 1970 she was awarded a Guggenheim Foundation grant of $5,000 to make prints from her old negatives. This prestigious prize marked a turning point in her long career, an acknowledgment that coincided with a rising interest among museums and enthusiasts in collecting photographs, both historical and contemporary.

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Minor White, Photographer' 1963

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Minor White, Photographer
1963
Gelatin silver print
Getty Museum
© The Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Phoenix Recumbent' 1968

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Phoenix Recumbent
1968
Gelatin silver print
19.1 × 22.2cm (7 1/2 × 8 3/4 in.)
Collection of Rudi Bianchi
© Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'My Father at Ninety' 1936

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
My Father at Ninety
1936
Gelatin silver print
Getty Museum
© The Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

 

After Ninety

When she was ninety-two, Cunningham started a new project, photographing people of advanced age. She estimated that this would take two years to complete, and she planned to publish the photographs in a volume to be called After Ninety. She began to seek out subjects, visiting them in their homes, in hospitals, and in convents. The project provided an outlet for her determination to keep active as well as a way to come to grips with being a nonagenarian herself. Cunningham died on June 24, 1976, and the book was published the following year.

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'After Ninety' 1977

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
After Ninety
1977
Closed: 31.1 x 23.5 x 1.3cm
Private collection

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'The Coffee Gallery' 1960

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
The Coffee Gallery
1960
Gelatin silver print
19.5 x 22.4cm
Getty Museum
Gift of Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser
© Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Another Arm' 1973

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Another Arm
1973
Gelatin silver print
23.2 × 19cm (9 1/8 × 7 1/2 in.)
© Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

Judy Dater. 'Imogen Cunningham and Twinka Thiebaud' 1974

 

Judy Dater (American, born 1941)
Imogen and Twinka at Yosemite
1974
Gelatin silver print
24.2 × 19cm (9 1/2 × 7 1/2 in.)
© Judy Dater. All rights reserved

 

 

The J. Paul Getty Museum
1200 Getty Center Drive
Los Angeles, California 90049

Opening hours:
Daily 10am – 5pm

The J. Paul Getty Museum website

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09
Jan
22

Exhibition: ‘Richard Benson: The World Is Smarter Than You Are’ at the Philadelphia Museum of Art

Exhibition dates: 3rd October, 2021 – 23rd January, 2022

Curator: Peter Barberie, Brodsky Curator of Photographs, Alfred Stieglitz Center

Field Galleries and Honickman Galleries 154-157

 

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017) 'Barbara Benson' 1968

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017)
Barbara Benson
1968
Gelatin silver print
Image and sheet: 7 1/2 × 9 1/2 inches
Mount: 9 1/8 × 11 inches
© Estate of Richard M. A. Benson. Promised gift of William M. and Elizabeth Ann Kahane
Image courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2021

 

 

Welcome to the first posting on Art Blart for 2022 and a Happy New Year to you all.

We start with an exhibition by highly regarded photographic printer (including prints for Paul Strand and Walker Evans and books for Lee Friedlander and about Eugène Atget) and teacher Richard Benson. A master of the craft of photography, “Benson became devoted to the technical aspects of printing and reproducing photographs” … “thoroughly imbued with the tradition, science and artistry of photography.” Benson was also an artist and the exhibition includes prints from the late 1960s until shortly before Benson’s death in 2017, the exhibition tracing his quest for the perfect print.

And therein lies the rub. It feels to me as though Benson’s work is more about the aesthetic of the print than about a good photograph and here I am going to call it as I see it. It might be a little controversial or even sacrilegious to one held in so high esteem for his printing, but I don’t particularly like his photographic work. Why?

Benson’s subject matter (“ageing farm machinery, austerely utilitarian boats, derelict factories, and the frequent intersections of history, nature, and our built environments”) can be found throughout the history of American photography. In that sense he offers few new insights on the environment in which he operates. Further, his “unsentimental specificity” – “or what his friend and fellow photographer Garry Winogrand referred to as the mystery of “a fact clearly described” – leaves me feeling … well, nothing really. To me his photographs are emotionally dead photographic experiments become artefacts. What is the story that he is telling, what was his vision?

Benson went to extraordinary lengths to make the print look how the world looked, because he wanted things to look in a print the way things looked when he saw them. But, as Paul Turounet comments, “Craft and technical execution function to support the photographers’ vision and curiosity with visual engagement, and clarity of intention and purpose. It becomes a tremendous opportunity for the photographer to experience how all of photography’s materials and processes, analog, digital or an alternative / hybrid system, can be used to reveal a personal photographic vision and what pictures are going to be about.”1

A personal photographic vision! What was that for Benson, for he has no signature style, his photographs being a mishmash of influences. As Arthur Lubow has observed, “In some of Benson’s black-and-white photographs of building interiors, like “65 Kenyon Street, Hartford, Connecticut” (1974), I thought of Walker Evans. Edward Weston floated into my consciousness as I looked at the organic semi-abstraction of “Agave” (c. 1975-85). And it was hard to avoid recalling Eggleston in viewing the colour jolts of the vintage red truck in “Wyoming” (2008), or the lime-green rowboat in “Newfoundland” (2006-8).”2 Quite so.

So we are left with what exactly. Beautiful but emotionally stilted representations of the world that offer small insight into the condition of its becoming.

Benson’s two statements, “Go out into the world with the camera and photograph and find out that the world is smarter than you are” and “When I make the picture, I’m seeing how I could make the print” are instructive here. Firstly, the world is not smarter than you are, it’s just more confusing. Nothing is ever as neat and tidy, as perfect as Benson would have us believe in his perfect prints. This is when the mystery of the fact clearly described is just that – a description and not a feeling. Secondly, when he’s taking a photograph he thinking about the print! He’s not thinking about resonances, vibrations of energy, time and space in the place itself but only what he sees as its perfect outcome. But Richard, there are many ways to make a print! You can print a mid-grey Zone V and as near black Zone 2, or use digital manipulation to intensive the feeling of an image. There is no single way to print a photographic image that is “correct” for there are many interpretations of a constructed reality. In my humble opinion Benson has his equation arse about tit. As Minor White in one of his Three Canons (1955) would say,

When the image mirrors the man
And the man mirrors the subject
Something might take over

.
Minor White elaborates further,

“To get from the tangible to the intangible (which mature artists in any medium claim as part of their task) a paradox of some kind has frequently been helpful. For the photographer to free himself of the tyranny of the visual facts upon which he is utterly dependent, a paradox is the only possible tool. And the talisman paradox for unique photography is to work “the mirror with a memory” as if it were a mirage, and the camera as a metamorphosing machine, and the photograph as if it were a metaphor… Once freed of the tyranny of surfaces and textures, substance and form [the photographer] can use the same to pursue poetic truth.”3

.
The critical observation is that craft and technical execution function to support the photographers’ vision and curiosity with visual engagement.

My friend and mentor IL keeps saying to me, “the really good stuff is there, I KNOW its there” – but you have to dig really deep to find it. Perhaps p. 25 in the preview of Benson’s book North South East West gets as close as I have felt (a sense of mystery and subtle spirit) … but I remain a skeptic with regard not to Benson’s craft but to his artistic vision, for he seems to have never freed himself of the tyranny of visual facts bound to their reproduction in the perfect print.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Footnotes

  1. Paul Turounet. “Well-Executed, Poorly Conceived Photographs,” on A Photo Teacher website Nd [Online] Cited 18/12/2021
  2. Arthur Lubow. “When a Master Printer Picks Up the Camera,” on The New York Times website December 30, 2021 [Online] Cited 02/01/2022
  3. Minor White quoted in Beaumont Newhall (ed.,). The History of Photography. Boston: Little, Brown, and Co., 1982, p. 281

.
Many thankx to the Philadelphia Museum of Art for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

The fundamental problem any artist faces in regard to craft is that it must be largely ignored. This seems to be an extreme statement, but it is surely true. Today we are experiencing a revival of sorts of non-silver, or alternative, systems for photographic printing, and the field is littered with well-executed, poorly conceived photographs. It seems to me that this has happened because all these photographers, or printers, are more interested in how they print their pictures than in what these pictures might be about.

.
Excerpt from the essay “Print Making” by Richard Benson in the book Paul Strand: Essays on His Life and Work. Aperture, 1991

 

“Isn’t that what we do as artists… don’t we try to create a surrogate that gives to the viewer something that was given to us when we saw the thing.

We get an inkling that there is something extraordinary there, we’ve stumbled on something extraordinary and the picture is our mechanism for understanding it.

When I make the picture, I’m seeing how I could make the print.”

.
Excerpts from a conversation with Richard Benson and Jay Maisel by George Jardine for Adobe Lightroom

 

“In black-and-white and color, in film and digital, in platinum prints, offset lithographs and inkjet prints, Benson mastered the procedures and, when he found them inadequate, invented his own. Like those sonically stunning LPs that were recorded to demonstrate the range of the first generation of stereos, Benson’s photographs often seem designed to mark the outer limits of what photography can practically achieve. …

Walking through the show, I saw the work of someone thoroughly imbued with the tradition, science and artistry of photography. But I was also reminded of a remark by Henry James, in a letter from 1888, about John Singer Sargent, who, similarly, could achieve with a brush anything he asked of it. “Yes, I have always thought Sargent a great painter,” James remarked. “He would be greater still if he had one or two little things he hasn’t – but he will do.””

.
Arthur Lubow. “When a Master Printer Picks Up the Camera,” on The New York Times website December 30, 2021 [Online] Cited 02/01/2022

 

 

 

 

Curators’ Talk on Richard Benson

Curator Peter Barberie and Sarah Meister of Aperture discuss the life and work of photographer Richard Benson.

Speakers

Peter Barberie is Brodsky Curator of Photographs, Alfred Stieglitz Center, at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Sarah Meister is Executive Director of Aperture, a not-for-profit foundation, multi-platform publisher, and center for the photo community.

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017) 'Barbara Benson (Young, Skinny, and Pissed Off)' 1970 (negative); 2005-2014 (print)

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017)
Barbara Benson (Young, Skinny, and Pissed Off)
1970 (negative); 2005-2014 (print)
Inkjet print
Image: 17 3/16 × 13 3/8 inches (43.6 × 33.9cm)
Sheet: 19 1/16 × 15 5/16 inches (48.4 × 38.9cm)
© Estate of Richard M. A. Benson. Promised gift of William M. and Elizabeth Ann Kahane
Image courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2021

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017) 'Sarah Benson' 1974

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017)
Sarah Benson
1974
Palladium print
Image: 6 1/2 × 4 5/8 inches
Sheet: 6 3/4 × 4 3/4 inches
Mount: 7 7/8 × 6 inches
© Estate of Richard M. A. Benson. Promised gift of William M. and Elizabeth Ann Kahane
Image courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2021

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017) 'Christopher Benson' 1981-1982 (negative); 1985-1995 (print)

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017)
Christopher Benson
1981-1982 (negative); 1985-1995 (print)
Offset lithograph
Image: 16 1/4 × 12 7/8 inches (41.2 × 32.7cm)
Sheet: 24 15/16 × 19 inches (63.4 × 48.2cm)
© Estate of Richard M. A. Benson. Promised gift of William M. and Elizabeth Ann Kahane
Image courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2021

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017) 'Barbara and Daniel Benson' 1978-79

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017)
Barbara and Daniel Benson
1978-79 (negative), 1985–95 (print)
© Estate of Richard M. A. Benson. Promised gift of William M. and Elizabeth Ann Kahane
Image courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2021

 

 

It’s worth mentioning that this was the late 1980s, when everywhere you looked it appeared as if “art photography” needed big ideas more than it needed great photographs. Benson would shoot down our art-speak while sympathising with our ambitions and the obstacles we faced in wanting to break new ground. He reminded us that “an artist is a person who tends to be really good at one thing but spends most of their time trying to do something else.” For him, the revelations and the ideas in photographs were in the details, in the unsentimental specificity, or what his friend and fellow photographer Garry Winogrand referred to as the mystery of “a fact clearly described.”

Many of the subjects Benson photographed across decades will be instantly familiar to anyone who’s ever crossed the US by car or run a few errands via bicycle in coastal New England: ageing farm machinery, austerely utilitarian boats, derelict factories, and the frequent intersections of history, nature, and our built environments. Benson’s encyclopaedic knowledge of the Industrial Revolution only partly accounts for the complete absence of nostalgia in photographs that regularly describe remnants and artefacts sharing present-tense place and time within a single frame.

At certain moments in his work, Benson chose black-and-white film and inkjet printers. In others he found it necessary – and appropriate – to hack a twenty-first-century desktop printer with nineteenth-century brass registration pins. Or, frustrated with pre-Photoshop colour gamut limitations, he needed to invent a technique combining multiple halftone separations and layers upon layers of hand-applied house paint. It was the only way to produce colour prints from his large-format colour negatives that finally met his exacting standards.

If asked why he had gone to such lengths while others remained content with the latest readymade printer options from Kodak or Epson, Richard would simply offer: “Because that’s the way the world looks … and I want things to look in a print the way things looked when I saw them.”

As fascinating and impressive as many of Benson’s technical innovations may have been, none were intended to be more interesting than the photographs they made possible.

The building blocks of the medium (optics, resolution, inherent qualities of various printing methods) often served as dowsing rods to suggest where, what, or whom to photograph. For example, many of Benson’s photographs of his family are produced with and informed by the unique properties of the 8 x 10-inch view camera and black-and-white negative film. Photographing this way requires a mixture of emphatic care and authoritarian control. But in the course of Benson’s work, photographs of family and other closest-to-home subjects are entirely natural extensions of a larger inquiry into our designs, arrangements, purpose-driven work, civic progress, and looming fragilities written across a landscape without end.

Although Richard Benson’s working life ranged across disciplines (hand-tooled mechanical clockworks, steam and combustion-engine design and restoration, hand-ground lenses, and custom-built telescopes), the exhibition at the museum limits its scope to Benson’s photographs. For Benson, neither capital-A “Art” nor rigorous craft were virtues unto themselves. Yet the world described in these photographs, with their “just-the-facts” titles – places and dates without backstory or anecdote – tell us all we need to know about Benson’s omnivorous curiosity and his belief in the nature and purpose of photographic seeing.

Extract from John Pilson. “Richard Benson’s All-Seeing Eye,” on the Philadelphia Museum of Art website November 15, 2021 [Online] Cited 18/12/2021

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017) 'Luquillo Woman, Puerto Rico' c. 1980

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017)
Luquillo Woman, Puerto Rico
c. 1980
Inkjet print
Image: 13 5/8 × 17 1/8 inches
Sheet: 15 1/2 × 18 7/8 inches
© Estate of Richard M. A. Benson. Promised gift of William M. and Elizabeth Ann Kahane
Image courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2021

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017) 'John Bull's Great Stone, Common Burying Ground, Newport, Rhode Island' 1973-1978

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017)
John Bull’s Great Stone, Common Burying Ground, Newport, Rhode Island
1973-1978
© Estate of Richard M. A. Benson. Promised gift of William M. and Elizabeth Ann Kahane
Image courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2021

 

 

One of his early pictures, “John Bull’s Great Stone, Common Burying Ground, Newport, Rhode Island” (1973-78), was made with a large-format view camera and composed of two contact prints mounted side by side. It depicts a series of six headstones for babies in one family, each marker incised with the face of an angel. Benson descended from a family of Newport stone carvers that dated to Colonial times. This composition, framed with perfect symmetry and sharp as a scalpel, is almost palpable, an appreciative flourish across the centuries from one consummate craftsman to another.

Arthur Lubow. “When a Master Printer Picks Up the Camera,” on The New York Times website December 30, 2021 [Online] Cited 02/01/2022

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017) 'John Bull's Great Stone, Common Burying Ground, Newport, Rhode Island' 1973-1978 (detail)

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017)
John Bull’s Great Stone, Common Burying Ground, Newport, Rhode Island (detail)
1973-1978
© Estate of Richard M. A. Benson. Promised gift of William M. and Elizabeth Ann Kahane
Image courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2021

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017) '53 Tilden Avenue Porch' Date unknown

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017)
53 Tilden Avenue Porch
Date unknown
Offset lithograph
Image: 16 3/16 × 12 13/16 inches (41.1 × 32.5cm)
Sheet: 24 15/16 × 19 inches (63.3 × 48.2cm)
© Estate of Richard M. A. Benson. Promised gift of William M. and Elizabeth Ann Kahane
Image courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2021

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017) 'Harford, Connecticut' c. 1974 (negative); c. 2005-2011 (print)

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017)
Harford, Connecticut
c. 1974 (negative); c. 2005-2011 (print)
Inkjet print
Image: 13 9/16 × 17 3/16 inches (34.5 × 43.6cm)
Sheet: 15 7/8 × 19 3/16 inches (40.4 × 48.8cm)
© Estate of Richard M. A. Benson. Promised gift of William M. and Elizabeth Ann Kahane
Image courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2021

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017) '65 Kenyon Street, Hartford, Connecticut' 1974

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017)
65 Kenyon Street, Hartford, Connecticut
1974
© Estate of Richard M. A. Benson. Promised gift of William M. and Elizabeth Ann Kahane
Image courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2021

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017) 'Billy Goode's, Newport, Rhode Island' 1976-1978

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017)
Billy Goode’s, Newport, Rhode Island
1976-1978
Platinum/palladium print
Image: 7 7/16 × 9 7/16 inches (18.9 × 24cm)
Sheet: 8 7/16 × 10 7/8 inches (21.4 × 27.6cm)
© Estate of Richard M. A. Benson. Promised gift of William M. and Elizabeth Ann Kahane
Image courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2021

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017) 'The Dark House (49 Tilden Avenue, Newport, Rhode Island)' c. 1975-1980

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017)
The Dark House (49 Tilden Avenue, Newport, Rhode Island)
c. 1975-1980
Platinum/palladium print
Image: 9 7/16 × 7 7/16 inches (24 × 18.9cm)
Sheet: 9 13/16 × 7 13/16 inches (24.9 × 19.8cm)
© Estate of Richard M. A. Benson. Promised gift of William M. and Elizabeth Ann Kahane
Image courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2021

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017) 'Puerto Rico' 1977-1985

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017)
Puerto Rico
1977-1985
Platinum/palladium print
Image: 7 3/8 × 9 3/8 inches (18.7 × 23.8cm)
Sheet: 8 × 9 15/16 inches (20.3 × 25.2cm)
© Estate of Richard M. A. Benson. Promised gift of William M. and Elizabeth Ann Kahane
Image courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2021

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017) 'Sugar Mill at Aguirre, Puerto Rico' c. 1978-1985 (negative); 1985-1995 (print)

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017)
Sugar Mill at Aguirre, Puerto Rico
c. 1978-1985 (negative); 1985-1995 (print)
Offset lithograph
Image: 12 3/16 × 15 5/16 inches (31 × 38.9cm)
Sheet: 19 1/8 × 25 inches (48.5 × 63.5cm)
© Estate of Richard M. A. Benson. Promised gift of William M. and Elizabeth Ann Kahane
Image courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2021

 

 

“Go out into the world with the camera and photograph and find out that the world is smarter than you are.”

With this exhortation, Richard Benson encouraged his students to explore one of photography’s core functions: recording things and events in the world. He wanted them to step out of their own mindsets and grapple with the many challenges – material, physical, and conceptual – encountered when making anything. It is precisely how Benson approached his own art. This exhibition surveys nearly fifty years of his photography, a wide-ranging body of work that reflects his humility and boundless curiosity about the world.

Renowned in photography circles for his acumen and inventiveness at printing and his far-ranging impact as a teacher and dean at the Yale University School of Art, Benson is best known today for the remarkable photography books he helped produce and the prints he made of other artists’ work. This exhibition puts his photography at the centre of these other achievements. It follows his continuous investigation of photographic processes and technologies and explores the dialogue between his pictures and other projects.

 

Benson’s subjects

Benson viewed human knowledge – particularly technology – as a cumulative, almost organic process, more a matter of continual adaptation and adjustment than of individual genius. This outlook is reflected in his photographic subjects. He recorded products of human ingenuity from stone carvings to steam engines and complex constructions of every sort. He also made straightforward and sensitive portraits of people and things he loved. And his subjects include the diverse spaces people create for themselves, which Benson viewed as “living rooms” that help us recover from the continuous disruptions of our technological age.

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017) 'Fort Adams, Newport, Rhode Island' 1975 (negative); 1975 (print)

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017)
Fort Adams, Newport, Rhode Island
1975 (negative); 1975 (print)
Platinum/palladium print
Image: 7 7/8 × 9 5/8 inches (20 × 24.4cm)
Sheet: 8 1/16 × 10 1/8 inches (20.5 × 25.7cm)
Mount: 8 7/8 × 11 inches (22.5 × 27.9cm)
© Estate of Richard M. A. Benson. Promised gift of William M. and Elizabeth Ann Kahane
Image courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2021