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California Dreamin': Camera Clubs and the Pictorial Photography Tradition
January 29 - March 28, 2004
(above: Fred Archer, Portrait of Edward Weston, c. 1915. Courtesy of the Stephen White Collection)
The Boston University Art Gallery (BUAG) is opening California Dreamin': Camera Clubs and the Pictorial Photography Tradition on Thursday, January 29, 2004 California Dreamin' examines the very active, yet relatively under examined tradition of pictorial photography practiced in the context of camera clubs in California during the first half of the twentieth century. Representing the work of forty seven photographers, California Dreamin' focuses on well-known artists, including Ansel Adams, Anne Brigman, William E. Dassonville, John Paul Edwards, Arnold Genthe, Karl Struss, Margrethe Mather and Edward Weston; while exposing lesser-known artists including Fred R. Archer, Will Connell, Arthur F. Kales, Louis Fleckenstein, Louis Goetz, Florence B. Kemmler, Hiromu Kira, Toyo Miyatake, William Mortensen, Kaye Shimojima, and others. (right: Lorraine Arnold, Untitled (Mixing Bowl), c. 1935. Courtesy of the Dennis Reed Collection)
California Dreamin' sets out to defy tired stereotypes that minimize twentieth-century Pictorialist practice. Pictorialism after about 1910 has typically been ignored or trivialized in histories of photography, as photographers and critics in the 1920s began to embrace a more modernist approach to photographic practice. As such, Pictorialism came to be seen as outdated.
Whereas modernist photographers were celebrated for their appreciation of urban, industrial and technological subjects, and their use of pure photographic vision through control of perspective and hard focus; Pictorialist photographers were chastised for their embrace of idealized, picturesque subjects, their use of expressive printmaking techniques and hand manipulation, and their preference for soft focus. Although this dichotomy between Pictorialism and modernism continues to be perpetuated in exhibitions and scholarship, this was not the case in the camera clubs themselves. California Dreamin' demonstrates that photographers working in camera clubs under the rubric of "Pictorialism" created work that either incorporated elements from both modes or encompassed more modernist modes altogether. (left: William Dassonville, Palm Trees, Santa Barbara, c. 1910. Courtesy of the Wilson Centre for Photography)
The broad selection of images presented in California Dreamin', many of which have never been exhibited or reproduced before, will attest to the visual power, complexity, and breadth of photography created in the camera clubs. Camera clubs were thriving centers of photographic activity at this time, with a particularly strong following in California. Within these clubs, a range of amateur and professional photographers interacted socially and intellectually in order to exchange ideas about photography and art.
Scholars and curators on the West Coast are writing about the history of California Pictorialism and camera clubs, yet this history still remains virtually unknown on the East Coast. Most photographers in this exhibition, even those crucial to the development of photography out west, will be entirely new to New England viewers.
California Dreamin': Camera Clubs and the Pictorial Photography Tradition showcases over ninety photographs from a group of forty-seven individual artists. Lenders to the exhibition include: The J. Paul Getty Museum, The Los Angeles County Museum of Art, The Oakland Museum of California, Michael G. Wilson and the Wilson Centre for Photography, the Stephen White Collection (II), Dennis Reed, and other private lenders.
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