AMERICANA: PICTURING AMERICA’S CHANGING LANDSCAPE
JANUARY 24 – FEBRUARY 28, 2015
The search for the American experience and the American spirit as well as the historical transformation of the nation in the 20th century have been the central forces and greatest influences behind the work of many American photographers. They have been motivated by an experience that is uniquely American. The presence of the land, the culture, the myths, and the symbols that define America were the dominant factors that provoked photographers to venture out across the country to document and capture the development and personality of the unique nation. Photographers have had many types of relationships with America through their various visions and interests resulting in disparate aspects of what makes up and comes to define the myriad voices of this country. The individuals chosen for this exhibition have all left an undeniable mark on the history of presenting the nation through their unique photography. Each in their own manner has chosen subjects that are quintessentially American and presented them to the larger world helping to visually define the personality of the distinctive society and landscape.
A seminal figure in the development of American photography, Berenice Abbott is renowned for her images of New York City in the midst of great transformation during the 1930s. Abbott’s mission was to preserve what was disappearing in New York City and to document the new identity that was emerging among the great skyscrapers with the “Changing New York” project. Abbott leaves behind a great legacy. Her pictures of New York in the 1930s are considered among the most important photographic documentations of an American city essentially signifying the larger transformations that were taking place in the United States at the time.
Arthur Rothstein became the first photographer to join the federally sponsored Farm Security Administration (FSA) photojournalism project. The FSA employed a small group of photographers including Walker Evans and Dorothea Lange to document and publicize the conditions of the impoverished rural areas of the United States. During his five years with the FSA, Rothstein shot some of the most significant photographs ever taken of rural and small-town America and in particular, documenting the Dust Bowl area of the Midwestern United States. His photographs of this period displayed a gritty reality of life in America during the Great Depression and remain a unique document and testament to a way of life in the region during one of the most trying periods in American history.
Brett Weston was among a small group of California photographers in the 1930s, known as the Group f/64 that included Edward Weston and Ansel Adams. In particular, Brett Weston is known primarily for his bold compositions based on quintessentially American Western landscapes and natural forms, and for his extraordinary printing style. He also explored the streets of New York with a focus on details and a subjectively abstract view of the city distinguishing himself from the photography of New York in the preceding decade, notably Berenice Abbott’s project “Changing New York.” His approach would govern the most prolific period of Weston’s work in the late 1940s and 1950s, when he utilized his highly polished style to photograph Western dunes, beaches, rocks, glaciers, and vegetation that composed the distinctive natural landscape of America.
Originally known for his Photo-Realist paintings of America during the 1970s, John Baeder often photographed the places he wished to paint and would work from his source material to compose his paintings. Baeder’s photographs are now considered as stand-alone works of art. The photographs encapsulate the uniquely American architectural detail and presence of structures which were a part of American roadside culture that are now gone. They provide a sense of the moment showing the cars that were present, the light of the time, or even the signs that were in the windows. His work remains a uniquely artistic testament to the 1970s when the last remnants of the quintessentially American institution were quickly disappearing.
Taken as a whole, the photographers included in the exhibition “Americana” provide us with a collective survey of how American photographers in the 20th century came to not only document and capture the nation through all of its transformations, but also to help define what is uniquely American both physically and culturally. Varying depictions of the cityscape of America, the rural plight of Americans during the Great Depression, and the distinctive environment of America’s natural landscape, as well as the quintessentially American roadside culture all combine to provide an artistically photographic overview of the American spirit.