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MoPOP at dusk, Seattle

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Group f/64


As I mentioned in my previous post, Ken and I went to the Autry Museum yesterday and saw the excellent new photography exhibition, Revolutionary Vision - Group f/64 & Richard Misrach.

Imogen Cunningham - Magnolia Blossom, 1925
This show was drawn from the collection of Bank of America. It contained not only a lot of familiar images from what is arguably the greatest photo collective ever, but many that I was not familiar with, and probably had never seen before.

Ansel Adams - Portrait of Edward Weston - 1945

Group f/64, named for the smallest possible aperture and the one that enables the most depth of field, was the moniker of a group of politically inclined Northern California photographers of the 1930's and 40's. They were at the forefront of an aesthetic movement in stark contrast to the prevailing current of the day, pictorialism.

While pictorialism was inclined towards soft focus, manipulation and conjecture this new modern style was far more representational and literal and had a crisper edge.

Its members included Edward Weston, Imogen Cunningham, Ansel Adams, Willard Van Dyke, Brett Weston, Sonya Noskowiak, Henry Swift, John Paul Edwards, Preston Holder, Consuelo Kanaga and Alma Lavenson.

Unfortunately, only the first five members that I mentioned have works featured in this show but curiously the much later Richard Misrach has near equal billing. I guess Bank of America only owned so much.

Group f/64 was born in Oakland, at Willard Van Dyke's home at 683 Brockhurst in 1931. Van Dyke was an assistant to Edward Weston. They called the gallery 683, as a sly contretemps to the East Coast Steiglitz's venerable 291.

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Winter Squash - Edward Weston - 1930

I am not going in to a full dissertation of the show.  The highlights for me were seeing prints like E. Weston's Winter Squash, Ansel Adams Portrait of Edward Weston, Cunningham's Tower of Jewels and her many photos and plant forms, one of my favorite subjects (and photographers), with her dramatic crops cutting the subject up and exiting the page in a somewhat radical way, reminiscent of the Japanese aesthetic movement that came to the fore some fifty years prior.

Ten Photographs - Brett Weston

I read that Van Dyke was the principal propagandist for the group, he also happened to be a very fine photographer. I was so taken with the sense of movement conveyed in Three Stacks aka Monolith, 1930.

Willard Van Dyke - Three Stacks


Edward Weston is simply Edward Weston, the apex dweller for all things photographic for me. The nautiloid, bell pepper, they are all there, in superb condition. Ansel Adams's beautiful CaƱon de Chelle print is also on view, the shutter clicking on the magic moment for the face of the ruins to be in full light and the cave behind shadowed in the languid dark.

White House Ruins - Ansel Adams 1942
Henry Swift - Plaster Forms 1932
I didn't think the extremely large format work held up very well, at least by today's visual standards. Different technology.

Brett Weston's large photograph of trees lacked some mid tones and detail, Adams famous Moonrise, Hernandez 1941 seemed flat and disjointed.

But the composition for all these works was simply impeccable, we just have a new paradigm today for resolution and i.q. and they can not be judged by current capabilities.

Mostly I didn't understand Misrach and how the show was hung. In the center area his work alternated with the f/64 photographs.

Sort of bizzare, while a visual case was being made for some sort of inclusion, I saw no written statement of purpose explaining the melding his contributions with the work of a much earlier generation of photographers. Probably there was a lecture at the opening making the case.

I frankly didn't care for his stuff all that much, at least in this context. He is a conceptual artist but perhaps not a superb technician. A painter. His prints looked washed out to my eye, diluted, lacked tautness.

His saguaros are surrounded by the faint light of a flash, something verboten and amateurish looking, a no-no for most outdoor photographers. His presence seemed incongruent and in my opinion did a disservice to all parties.

The girl at dinner maintained that they weren't probably lit and that when I had assembled a body of work comparable to Richard Misrach I could talk. Fair enough. I was also reminded that his work was now some thirty years old and a lot of water has come over that bridge.

Richard Misrach - Dead Fish, Salton Sea 1983.

It is a wonderful show and I can't recommend it enough. It would have been nice to show the works of all the members and near members but it may not have been possible. It runs through the end of the year, try to go see it. You will never get these images out of your mind, I promise.

Alma Lavenson - Eucalyptus leaves, 1932

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