San Diego Museum of Art’s photography exhibit includes big names from the 20th century
Finally opening a year after its planned debut, the San Diego Museum of Art’s new photography exhibit will feature some of the medium’s most recognizable and influential names, including Ansel Adams, Dorothea Lange, Aaron Siskind and Alfred Eisenstaedt.
“Masters of Photography: The Garner Collection” was scheduled to open November 14, 2020, the day the COVID pandemic forced the museum to close for the second time. He will now make his debut on Saturday.
“Nobody got a chance to see it,” said Anita Feldman, assistant director of curatorial affairs and education at the San Diego Museum of Art. “We just kept the photos and put everything in storage.”
The collection of 112 prints is on loan from Cam and Wanda Garner, local collectors who have long contributed to the museum. The couple – he’s a biotech executive and she’s a licensed family and marriage therapist – donated hundreds of photographs to the institution, though only a few of them are on display in this exhibit.
The images reflect the Garners’ interests, focusing on work from the 1930s to the 1960s, but include photos from 1900 to the present day. Rather than only collecting well-known images, Cam Garner said he focuses on works by photographers that pique his interest.
“I find it much more appealing,” he said. “I can dig into their background and get more depth,” he said.
Garner said his interest in photography began during childhood family vacations. His father always had a camera with him and when he got home he would put together slideshows of their travels. Garner started taking surf photos at age 16 and began collecting around 25 years ago.
“Cam is a strong photographer in his own right. Although self-taught, he has had the privilege of working and learning from many professional photographers,” said Roxana Velásquez, Executive Director and CEO of the museum. “His collection is particularly important because it includes many important photographers in depth; for example, its collection includes more than 100 works by Mary Ellen Mark, one of the most profound photographers of the 20th century documenting the inequalities of society.
The exhibition is grouped into three themes: “Reflecting on nature”, “Things as they are: city, society and conflict” and “Manipulating reality: abstraction and allegory”.
“Thematic groupings often provide a way to understand a subject that might get lost in chronological organization,” Velásquez said. “Different artists grappling with similar themes from different generations reveal that their aesthetic, humanitarian, or environmental concerns are ongoing and not unique to any particular moment in time.”
The “Reflecting on Nature” section includes four images by Ansel Adams. Among them are his iconic “Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico,” shot in 1941, and “El Capitan, Sunrise Winter, Yosemite National Park,” shot in 1918 and printed in 1976.
Adams used what is known as the gelatin silver process for his prints, a technique that brings images into focus and accentuates black and white contrasts. This process, Feldman said, “captures the detail that you lose to the naked eye.”
By comparison, platinum prints from the early 20and century, like William Edward Dassonville’s “Yosemite Valley” from 1905, have a velvety quality that emulates a painting.
Aaron Siskind used the fine detail of gelatin silver prints to create abstracts by taking close-ups of objects found in nature and focusing on shapes, textures and lines. The Garners have an extensive collection of Siskind’s prolific career, which began with documentary photography in the 1930s. His images are featured in “Reflecting on Nature” as well as in the “Manipulating Reality: Abstraction and Allegory” section.
Anne Brigman brought a romantic and painterly vision to her landscapes. Brigman was known as a pictorialist who created images in the aesthetics of European master painters, promoting the idea that photography was equal to other fine arts. Her photos were often shot in the Sierra Nevada with female nudes, which were usually her or her sister. 1911’s “The Pine Sprite” has a primordial feel as Brigman poses in a tree.
Brigman’s photos with elf-like nudes were considered radical by some at a time when feminism was in its infancy. But photography and the women’s rights movement grew side by side. Women won the right to vote in 1920, and in 1925 the invention of the portable Leica 35mm camera ushered in the era of photojournalism.
“Photography was something women could do,” Feldman said. “It was a form of self-expression that didn’t rely on male-dominated art schools. It was a modern, liberated art form.
Pioneering photojournalist Margaret Bourke-White was one of the first four photographers hired to work for Life magazine in 1936. She documented the German invasion of Moscow in 1941, crossed the Rhine with General George Patton and took some of the first interior photos. concentration camps as well as the famous 1946 photo of Mahatma Gandhi next to his spinning wheel.
Two of Bourke-White’s prints are featured in the “Things as They Are: City, Society, and Conflict” section. One is a 1951 image of the American aircraft carrier Boxer, stationed in San Diego, the other of the liberation of Buchenwald concentration camp in 1945.
Other notable women in the exhibit include Dorothea Lange, who put a human face on the suffering of the Depression era. (Her photo of a bread line in 1932 is one of many in the show illustrating the Great Depression.) Berenice Abbott documented the transformation of the New York skyline in the 1930s and Diane Arbus s focused on people on the margins of society.
Mary Ellen Mark also focused on the marginalized and integrated herself with her subjects. She spent time in the maximum-security women’s ward at Oregon State Hospital in Salem, Oregon in the mid-1970s, and an assignment for Life magazine on street teenagers in Seattle. has become a lifelong project. His photo of 13-year-old Erin Blackwell, known as Tiny on the streets of Seattle, dressed for Halloween is one of three prints by Mark in the exhibit.
“Things as They Are: City, Society and Conflict” covers everything from a chilling snapshot of Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels by Alfred Eisenstaedt in 1933 and Robert Capa’s 1944 Omaha Beach landing to a series of photographs by Bruce Davidson, who became involved in a Brooklyn street gang in 1959.
Also included is Lewis Hine’s image of a young girl named Sadie Pfeifer working as a spinner in a North Carolina cotton mill in 1910. His photos of working children helped pass child labor laws.
The third section of the exhibition, “Manipulating Reality: Abstraction and Allegory,” examines how photos were altered to achieve desired effects long before Photoshop. In 1900, Frank Eugene used etching tools to scrape off the negative of “Menuet” to give the illusion of a hand-created image. And Albanian photographer Gjon Mili used stop action to create a surreal image with multiple exposures in his 1940 photo of a female torso.
But not all of the photographs in this section have been altered; some were staged like Gregory Crewdson’s “Dream House (Gwyneth Paltrow),” one of the few color images in the exhibit. The 2002 image is composited to look like a film set.
“It plays with the collective memory. It’s totally made up, playing on the banality of suburban life. It’s a very different way to take a picture,” Feldman said. “Photography always makes us look anew at the world we live in,” she said. “And that’s something we can all play with.”
“Masters of Photography: The Garner Collection”
When: Opens Saturday and closes February 21
Or: San Diego Museum of Art, 1450 El Prado, Balboa Park
Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays and Tuesdays and Thursday to Saturday; noon to 5 p.m. Sunday; closed on Wednesday
Admission: $8 to $20; 17 and under free.
Call: (619) 232-7931
In line: sdmart.org