Looking Back: Part II
November 27, 2015 - January 9, 2016
Manuel Álvarez Bravo
Looking Back – Part ii continues our 35th anniversary celebration with a focus on some of the many photographers we were honored to exhibit. The exhibit includes work by Diane Arbus, Manuel Álvarez Bravo, Harry Callahan, Lynn Geesaman, Laura Gilpin, Aaron Siskind, and Minor White.
Since 1980 we have strived to bring exceptional work, from both national and international photographers, to Santa Fe. In 1984 we exhibited the works of Diane Arbus. It was the first time that her work had been shown in New Mexico. Known for her intriguing portraits and street photography, Arbus’ photographs offered a new perspective into the lives of unique individuals, including circus performers, drag queens, and nudists.
In 1988 we had the privilege of hosting Manuel Álvarez Bravo. He was gracious in meeting many of Santa Fe’s photography community. Although there were language barriers all that slipped away when we spoke about the darkroom, chemistry and printing. Álvarez Bravo was one of Mexico’s most renowned photographers whose lyrical and surrealist images convey Mexican life and culture.
“I don’t search for the encounter. In reality, art is like that. We don’t seek but we find.”
Among the many threads Álvarez Bravo weaves into his work is one of surrealism. Bravo says, “The invisible is always contained and present in a work of art which recreates it. If the invisible cannot be seen in it, then the work of art does not exist.” This challenge is met in all of Álvarez Bravo’s photographs. Bravo’s photographs have many influences; Western religious/Christian and traditions, European art, and the mythology of ancient Mexico. His photographs are imbued with symbols and hidden meanings.
For many years we have continued to focus on one of our primary areas of interest; photographers whose imagery is more transformative, artists who approach their subject matter not with recording in mind but with interpretation. In this exhibition we have extraordinary examples by Harry Callahan, Lynn Geesaman, Aaron Siskind and Minor White.
Harry Callahan, one of the most influential photographers of the twentieth century, is known for his innovative and unconventional perspectives on everyday objects and scenes utilizing the objectivity of straight photography to produce works that reinvented reality, “to charge it with personal, even mythic, resonance.” (Davis)
In 1941, he met Ansel Adams who gave a workshop in Detroit. Adams offered him Stieglitz’s model of transcendentalism and equivalency. “I wanted something important, something spiritual in my life then” Callahan later said. He admired Stieglitz’s series of portraits of Georgia O’Keeffe, which inspired him to begin the decades-long series of portraits of his wife Eleanor.
Reminiscent of images produced by nineteenth century travel photographers, the photographs of Lynn Geesaman display solitary, curious worlds. Geesaman accentuates the formal compositions of the places that she photographs; English gardens, canals and roadsides in Belgium, and Italian hillside villages. Her photographs add monumentality and solidity to the landscape making the ingredients melt into abstraction as value and shape take on increased significance. This is further increased by her printing method that results in a shadowy glow that permeates the photographs. The overall effect supports Geesaman’s Romantic notion that there is a reality beyond the empirical.
Aaron Siskind identified with the ideas and styles of the Abstract Expressionist artists in New York in the 1940s. His photographs emphasize the modernist concern with the flatness of the picture plane. He intensified his approach to picture making – with close-up framing, as well as emphasis on texture, line, and visual rhymes – creating abstract images of the real world.
Siskind wrote about the vintage photograph we have on exhibit,
“This picture of the seaweed was taken in 1943. It is really a very primitive picture, but it already had a good aesthetic operating. It was definitely an image that related to images that already existed. In my mind it related to early cave paintings or perhaps a common image of an animal. Little by little I worked away from images that were immediately related to an object in the world, and little by little, my work became more abstract. The reference to the world was not so specific. This picture is purely abstract, except that you can tell what it is, so you can’t call it non-objective, but it’s about as close as you can get. When you look at it, it evokes memories, but it’s just pure shape. I used the material straight but it’s not a document. It is an intimation. I learned from taking this picture how I could change the whole nature of the thing I was photographing and transform it.”
In 1946 Minor White met Alfred Stieglitz, whose concept of equivalence became central to White’s art. Stieglitz’s concept that the photograph can be an equivalent – a metaphor for an internal state – White extended this idea, applying it to a mode of personal photography and teaching in which photography was conceived of as a spiritual discipline both for the photographer and the active viewer.
We complete this exhibition with the works of Laura Gilpin. In 1917 Gilpin, as a young woman, studied photography at the Clarence White School of photography, bringing a pictorialist vision back to her beloved southwest. She is one of very few photographers whose work spans photographic approaches from pictorialism through straight and documentary photography.
Whether printed on platinum or silver paper, her pictures are characteristically infused with a soft, luminous light and composed with classic elegance. Gilpin was a woman of Western toughness and Eastern gentility who could hire a plane or camp overnight to get the picture she wanted. For more than a half a century, she practiced her profession with consummate craftsmanship and a great love for the world around her.
We have a special group of early platinum prints as well as a group of her images from the series The Enduring Navajo, which is considered a classic in both the histories’ of photography and this region.