When Scheinbaum and Russek’s first gallery space opened its doors in 1980, its debut exhibition was a show of Willard Van Dyke’s work. Hundreds of people from the Santa Fe arts community turned out to view the legendary photographer’s f.64-era prints, as well as his later work, 8 x 10 Polaroids made in Ireland. Soon after that show, Van Dyke moved to Santa Fe, where he lived his remaining years.
Van Dyke was an integral part of the evolution of both still photography and filmmaking. In 1932, he hosted the founding meeting of f.64, a group of photographers connected by a common belief in the superiority of “straight,” unmanipulated photography over the pictorialist fashion of the day. f.64 members, including Edward Weston and Ansel Adams, used large cameras to make long exposures through small apertures (hence the name “f.64”), producing negatives of great detail and clarity. Van Dyke authored much of the group’s philosophy, coining the phrase “pure photography.”
He apprenticed with Edward Weston, and in 1933 traveled with Weston and others to New Mexico on a photography expedition. His early photographs are typically details from industry or nature, emphasizing form, shadow, and negative space. They are graphically bold, as in his architectural series of abandoned buildings. Believing that both photography and film could change the world, he soon shifted toward social and documentary concerns. With emotionally impactful portraits of people such as unemployed steelworkers and their families, he portrayed a society during hard times.
In 1938, Van Dyke moved into filmmaking. He was a cameraman on Pare Lorentz’s The River. Van Dyke and Ralph Steiner, through their collaboration on the film The City, earned a reputation as the fathers of documentary filmmaking. Van Dyke directed the film department at New York’s MoMA for nine years. In 1977 he returned to still photography, working in color for the first time.
Willard Van Dyke is a rare example of an artist who ascends to the top of two fields. Scheinbaum and Russek are proud of their long-standing association with him and his work.