A Family Business
A new exhibit documents the influence of Central Coast photography.
Thursday, May 15, 2003
To think of the Monterey Museum of Art''s upcoming exhibition California Photography: the Monterey Legacy as a mere showcase of regional artists underestimates the profound impact of Central Coast photography on the history and evolution of modern photography as a whole.
Finding inspiration and creative affirmation from the stunning landscapes of the Central Coast, photographers like Edward and Brett Weston and Ansel Adams helped launch, both in terms of technique and subject matter, the modernist aesthetic extolling purity of vision and an abiding belief in the virtues of sharp, accurate rendering of subject matter.
Drawn from the museum''s permanent collection of approximately 2,200 images, California Photography will feature 65 historic and contemporary photographs by a wide range of California artists, including Carleton Watkins, Isaiah West Taber, the Westons, Ansel Adams, Imogen Cunningham, Wynn Bullock, John Sexton and others. Beyond landscape photography, the show will include still lifes and important abstract works.
In considering the cumulative impact of the exhibition, what stands out distinctly is the significant degree to which the idea of "family" has been integral to the development of photography here on the Central Coast. From the three generations of Westons, beginning with Edward, his sons Brett and Cole, and Edward''s grandson Kim, to Wynn Bullock and the work of his wife Edna, and to the influence of Ansel Adams as a "father figure" and mentor to a host of younger, accomplished photographers, the photography is marked not just by a shared aesthetic, but a shared philosophy of spirit, a love of the land, and a desire to use the camera to pass on to future generations the legacy of natural beauty that characterizes the landscapes of the West.
According to museum director Richard Gadd, the exhibition provides a broad, representative look at the museum''s overall collection, specifically the work of those photographers who found particular inspiration here on the Central Coast. Among exhibit highlights are late 19th- and early 20th-century works by Carleton Watkins, San Francisco landscape photographer Isaac Taber, and Joseph Johnson, who ran a photography studio in Monterey in the 1880s and took many significant photographs of the local missions and Cannery Row.
Beyond providing a wonderful survey of regional photography, California Photography also showcases the museum''s successful and ongoing effort to assemble a comprehensive, scholarly collection of photographs, one that Gadd believes will help provide greater insight into the development of California and modern photography.
"A lot of people don''t know the history or the transitions," says Gadd. "They just know the sharp, black and white, gelatin silver print. If we can show the transition from the soft-focus, ethereal work as opposed to the hard-edged modern images, it can help educate people."
Looking toward the future of the collection, Gadd says the Monterey museum is working to fill in its holdings by seminal artists and acquire a broader selection of work that illustrates the different trends in photography that led from pictorialism to "straight" photography. In its effort to build a collection of historic and scholarly value, the museum makes its collection available to students and researchers.
Much of the impetus for the museum''s collection began in the early ''70s with the efforts of the late noted photographer Steve Crouch, who donated approximately 50 photographs to the museum from his private collection. Since then, the museum has focused on expanding its holdings. With limited funding and competition for other arts acquisitions, the museum has depended primarily on donations and gifts of work to help build its collection.
According to Gadd, the museum hasn''t purchased any prints with acquisition funds in the past eight years, although it was able to buy some contemporary color work through a National Endowment for the Arts grant a few years ago. Among the museum''s most important recent acquisitions, says Gadd, are 50 color images by the late Cole Weston donated three years ago, and over 100 black and white images by Edward Weston printed by Cole.
"The donation of the Edward Weston prints really filled out our collection of Weston images, and in some cases having vintage prints and prints by Cole of the same image makes for a nice teaching tool," says Gadd, who believes the key to the museum''s success has been the relationships it has established with artists and donors over the years.
Although its photography collection is focused on regional work by California artists, the Monterey Museum also boasts a strong, broader-based international collection that includes work by Harry Callahan, Paul Caponigro, Aaron Siskind, Gene Smith and Dorothea Lange. "We don''t have the big Man Rays or Steiglitzs, but we would love to get them," says Gadd.
California Photography: the Monterey Legacy opens May 17.