Capturing the Moment II
Center for Photographic Art, Weston Gallery, Photography West Gallery
Thursday, November 30, 2006
Center for Photographic Art
The 16th Annual Center for Photographic Art worldwide exhibition ends Friday, Dec. 1. Ansel Adams, Brett and Cole Weston, Imogen Cunningham, Willard Van Dyke and others began Friends of Photography here in 1967 on the site of the old Carmel Grade School library, which Cole managed and developed into the Sunset Center. The mission of the Friends, and now of its successor, the Center for Photographic Art, is photography exhibition, publishing and education.
“Ansel would stand right here and greet people as they came in,” recalls Dennis High, director of CPA, “and they all came here—Minor White, Jerry Uelsmann, Wynn Bullock, Barbara Morgan. Ansel would look at your prints if you asked him. This is really the roots of modern photography.”
The Friends, and then the Center, attracted the major figures of world photography over the decades to exhibit, teach workshops and develop publications.
The annual competition has international prestige. The current exhibition includes work selected from the 2006 competition, which drew entries from 300 photographers worldwide. “Every year we get a real survey of what’s going on right now,” High says.
I saw many images that had been manipulated in Photoshop or in the printing process and asked: Was he deluged with digital works?
“It’s all marks on a piece of paper,” he said. “However it is made, it’s the end result on the viewer that is important. I see a lot of social documentary, looking at lives rather than at events.”
Heather McClintock of North Carolina, who received the grand prize of $12,000, is such a practitioner. Her color portraits of victims of disease and war in Uganda maintain little distance from the subject; the photographer’s emotional involvement is evident in the way she frames her subjects to give them distance and dignity. The images are bursting with pattern, the surfaces gleam with a dusty warmth that feels like Africa. Her award will pay for a return to her work there.
Another award, for $10,000, went to Gregori Maiofis, who “works in a crusty studio in St. Petersburg, Russia,” High said.
“He meticulously orchestrates his shots, but it’s still straight photography. That bear is really sitting on a chair in his studio.
“The fact that he does bromide printing, an antique process, might be his reaction to the digital world.” The bromide process results in images that are fairly flat without a broad tonal range—the photographs seem to sit on top of the paper without penetrating it. And there is a cool brown cast to the image that gives a distinctively antique flavor.
The exhibition also includes masterful use of Photoshop to manipulate images, as in the densely complex, droll atmospheric montages by Englishman Dominic Rouse, who lives in Thailand. It’s there again in the work of Stephen Marc, of Arizona, whose obsession with the Underground Railroad has erupted in books and scores of poignant politico-historic montages in which photos are combined with scanned found images. Robert Weingarten employs new technologies of printing in highly pigmented photographs. Elsewhere, gigantic flatbed scanners do crisply and in color what early photographers did with photograms. Throughout the exhibit, it is evident that art and technology are still marching hand in hand.
“Whether printing straight photographs in the tradition of the silver gelatin prints, or using antiquated techniques to achieve a certain feel, or working digitally, they’re all just ways of transferring what the photographer sees into marks on paper,” High says.
In 1974, Ansel Adams was looking for someone to take over the business of selling his work. He was close friends with Maggie Weston, wife of Edward’s son Cole Weston, and he asked her if she would open a gallery.
There were very few galleries 32 years ago that focused on photography. The Weston Gallery opened in Carmel with a show of Adams’ work. The gallery exhibited, sold and published books about Adams as well as Edward, Brett and Cole Weston, and soon built an international reputation and became a destination for photographers and collectors. The Weston Gallery continues to show works by these masters.
I ask gallery director Richard Gadd if photographs continue to be produced from the old negatives.
“The negatives have been retired to a museum in Arizona, he replies. “No more prints of Ansel Adams’ works are produced—except for a special edition that the Yosemite Foundation has permission to continue to print, because of Adams’ connection with that place and his work there.”
The gallery’s photographs by the older generation of masters all come from private collectors. “We never know what will come through our doors,” Gadd says, “but any collector of significant fine art photography knows of the Weston Gallery.”
In the tradition of the f64 group and its founders, the gallery has a mission to “bring to light those images that define photography.”
In doing this it exhibits early 20th century works, as well as pieces by important contemporary artists worldwide, including those working in new techniques.
Gadd walks me past walls filled with Brett, Cole and Edward Weston, Adams, Yousuf Karsh, Cunningham, a wonderful Henri Cartier-Bresson. I also find the surreal work of Jerry Uelsmann; exquisite, haunting landscapes by Linda Butler; small digital black-and-white images with the density of aquatints by Robb Johnson; and the work of Chip Hooper, a contemporary exemplar of Adams’ large-format landscape-and-seascape tradition, who uses archival digital printing processes.
The featured exhibition is called Landscape of Dreams and contains the work of Maggie Taylor. Using a flatbed scanner, a small digital camera and a computer, Taylor creates playful and disturbing dreamscapes. She is such an adept at Adobe Photoshop that Adobe has funded a book by her that details the many steps of her creative process.
“Abdullah’s Prayer” places a little girl at the center of a nearly square format, feathery trees framing each side, a rosy distant horizon, sun in blue sky, a grassy foreground. But everything is off…her face seems blurry and double-exposed, her eyes soulful through the blur, a shadow on the grass in front of her is somehow disturbing, everything is lit by an unreal light. “Subject to Change” grows a tree from the head of a leaf-cloaked man whose beard is caught in the wind, in the act of changing. “Three Trees, Two Rabbits” uncorks a grove of trees from the earth, leaving a hole from which rabbits emerge.
None of these nor her other works says, “Whee! See what I can do?” They have all of the weight and seriousness of a confusing dream, in which things happen that oughtn’t. Jungian psychology and Alice in Wonderland belong in this discussion, all in the environment of very proper, very traditional English landscapes.
“Photographers as artists used whatever tools were
available to them from the start,” Gadd says.
Photography West Gallery
The heritage of Adams, the Westons, Ruth Bernhard, Cunningham and other luminaries connected with this place can dependably be found just blocks away from the Weston Gallery at Photogaphy West. Founded in 1980, this gallery consistently shows and sells works of these masters and also exhibits younger artists. The ongoing exhibition of Emerging Landscape Photographers now features whispery silver gelatin prints made in the traditional process by Willard Scott, whose landscapes bespeak a contemporary aesthetic—landscape at its most dramatically real. A rock, not just a rock…