Posts Tagged ‘Laguna Art Museum’

The New Golden Decade by Steidl – Book Review

September 25th, 2017

Golden Decade: Photography at the California School of Fine Arts 1945-55

By William Heick, Ira H. Latour and C. Cameron Macauley, edited by Ken Ball and Victoria Whyte Ball

Book Review

The New Cover of The Golden Decade: Photography at the California School of Fine Arts 1945-55.

Cutting Edge of World Art Then, Publishing Today

A completely new, redesigned, re-edited and revised version of the Golden Decade: Photography at the California School of Fine Arts 1945-55, published by renowned photography book publisher Steidl based in Gottingen, Germany, has been selling steadily in the United States for close to a year. The new Golden Decade has already sparked glowing reviews by many major newspapers and magazines, instigated book signings at some of America’s most prominent bookstore venues and catalyzed a handful of exhibitions at major museums, galleries and art centers.

This year, Steidl, the book, or the photographers have been featured in USA Today, the New Yorker and many other prominent publications. Mainstay European newspaper, The Guardian, hailed the Golden Decade as the book about “the school that turned photography into art.” Beyond the Curtain, touted as Southern California’s premier art and society magazine, extolled the Golden Decade photography exhibition at the Laguna Art Museum as “not for the eye to miss” and “a special glimpse into California’s progressive cultural history.” The Beyond the Curtain review revealed the influential ties between Golden Decade photography and the world art scene, as well as the East Coast art establishment. The article in Beyond the Curtain showed how the West Coast, specifically the California School of Fine Arts, renamed the San Francisco Art Institute, between its painters and photographers, at the time became the world’s cutting edge expression of modernism.

Only five of the 35 photographers with portfolios in the book are still living, while none of the original authors William Heick, Ira H. Latour and C. Cameron Macauley are still with us. As a result, the book editors, Ken Ball and Victoria Whyte Ball are all but worn out by an extended season of bookstore events that launched at the end of last October with a book signing at The Strand in New York City and continues throughout California and other major art markets. For more about the development of the new Golden Decade at Steidl and a list of all 35 photographers see the Landscape Photography Blogger article, “The Golden Decade Book to be Published by Gerhard Steidl.

The New Golden Decade Book Versus the Old Book

Steidl’s new design for the Golden Decade is less folksy and not as loaded with memorabilia, but more artful, chic, streamlined and clean, though the book still weighs in at 416 pages. The book is far from sleek, but the design on each page is sleek, spacious and crisp. The book overall is less busy and more pleasing to the eye than the earlier self-published version. A section in the beginning now tells how the book came to be, followed by the feature essay in which Ira H. Latour, in easy-reading prose tells the story of the founding of the photography department by Ansel Adams and California School of Fine Arts director Douglas MacAgy. For more on how the Golden Decade began see the blog post, “The Golden Decade: Photography at the California School of Fine Arts.

From obtaining funding through the Columbia Foundation, to securing facilities, the radio announcement, the first classes, launching the full-time program, abstract expressionism and much more, Latour’s essay informs, but does not overwhelm. Ansel Adams modeled the school on a rigorous piano conservatory approach to hands-on practice and set up the curriculum based on his famous Zone System. Early on a few students complained that the advertising promised courses by Ansel Adams just as he had become scarce at the school while working on his Guggenheim project photographing the national parks. The complaining faded when Ansel Adams hired Minor White, who in turn brought in prominent photographers to teach including Dorothea Lange, Imogen Cunningham, Lisette Model, Eliot Finkels, Frederick W. Quandt, Jr., Clyde Childress from the Art Center School, Robert McAllister, Homer Page, Rose Mandel and others. Beaumont and Nancy Newhall even gave a few lectures. The most anticipated student outings were to visit Edward Weston and Brett Weston at Wildcat Hill in Carmel, as well as photography field trips with Edward Weston out to Pt. Lobos State Reserve.

Minor White taught his, at the time somewhat confusing, but later much lauded Space Analysis. Benjamin Chinn, Philip Hyde, C. Cameron Macauley and others who wrote or talked about Space Analysis each had different understandings of it, but in June of 1952, the American Annual of Photography published an article by Minor White that defined Space Analysis as simply “The Use of Space in Defining Pictures.” C. Cameron Macauley’s essay in the Golden Decade also has provides readers with an understandable summary. Space Analysis brought the photographer’s awareness to vacant space, filled space and the relationships between objects and space, with more emphasis on the space than the objects. Students applied Space Analysis both before exposure while looking at the ground glass and after the production of a finished print.

Besides teaching portrait and landscape photography with large format cameras, White encouraged the study of motion by studying rush hour and doing street photography using “mini cameras,” that is, medium format and 35 mm. He also promoted the photographic interpretation of other arts including sculpture, plays, various other forms of performance and festivals. Students photographed the lively Fillmore District, the coast along Highway 1, industrial and architectural subjects with real world assignments by Pacific Gas and Electric Company, Stanford University, the City of Mendocino, the Gold Country, ghost towns and many other locations and clients all over Northern California.

Essays By Star CSFA Students

The essays by William Heick, C. Cameron Macauley, Ira H. Latour and others illuminate all aspects of student endeavor, both the day and night classes, student social gatherings, the striking philosophical differences between Minor White and Edward Weston and between Minor White and Ansel Adams. The latter at times brought on heated classroom discussions. Latour’s essay in particular offers an insightful, incisive dissecting not only of technical, creative and academic aspects of the photography program, but of the philosophy and character of both instructors and key innovative students.

Separate essays, all rearranged for better flow in this new Steidl version of the Golden Decade, also cover student print exchanges, a student print-based fundraising event, the world-famous 1954 “Perceptions” show at the San Francisco Museum of Art and the founding of Aperture magazine with several students including Philip Hyde, Benjamin Chinn and William Heick, being featured in early issues. Another essay described the students hanging out and later mounting a show at Vesuvio’s Bistro in the bustle of San Francisco’s North Beach District, which soon after became the home neighborhood of the Beat Generation poets. “Vesuvio’s is usually crowded with painters, photographers, craftsmen and sighseers,” wrote C. Cameron Macauley.

An essay by Pat Harris, “A Woman’s Perspective” explained that though most of the men had just come out of Word War II and were going to art school backed by the G.I. Bill, the primarily non-veteran women enrolled in the classes had to scrape and pay for school on their own. People kept saying to Pat Harris that science was not for women at each school she attended previously, but Ansel accepted her into the photography program and with mentoring from Imogen Cunningham she thrived.

Similarities, Differences and Influences in Student Photographs

Students at the school came from diverse backgrounds and circumstances, but the similarities that ran through many of the photographs do not end at the often-evident influence of Adams, Weston and White, but begin with it and go beyond it. Emerging from World War II, the country, the world and San Francisco in particular, had tremendous creative energy and productivity, while at the same time civilization carried the weight of what it had seen and endured, moving past it with transcendence and new purpose. Aspects of all of this are evident in the photographs, as well as meanings beneath the surface in most of the images. Edward Weston said, “To photograph a rock, make it look like a rock, but be more than a rock.”

The student portfolios exhibit a quiet intensity with clean lines, a new take on the modernist aesthetic, with room around subjects, objects well-placed in space, whether through space analysis or by emulating the quiet balance conveyed by Edward Weston. Many of the students’ photographs exhibit a strong design element. All are carefully conceived. For more about the contemporary exhibitions of the photographs starting in 2010 see the blog post, “Over 500 People Attend Golden Decade Opening.

Ansel Adams spoke of photographs representing a spiritual experience. The Golden Decade nature photographs exemplify either subtle or more obvious post-war transcendence. The landscape photographs contain some kind of spiritual quality, either through the use of light, or the arrangement of the subjects. Symbolism, ironic juxtaposition and the careful handling of negative and positive space around objects is as important as the objects and people themselves. The influence of Minor White also shows in the patterns and psychological emphasis, sometimes on humor, sometimes on tragedy, but always giving added meaning to the images. Metaphysics often shows or is alluded to in the street and people photographs as well. Pirkle Jones, William Heick, Gerald Ratto, David Johnson and many of the others expressed their greatest artistry in their photographs of people.

The first photograph in the student portfolios, “Nun and Child” by Ruth-Marion Baruch, like many others in the book, was clearly best expressed in black and white rather than in color. The nun’s habit with it’s black and stark white oversized collar contrasted with various grays and off-whites of the surrounding children all framed in a dark doorway. Baruch’s “Benicia” also juxtaposed innocence, optimism and the liveliness of youth in the foreground with the disappointment, unfairness and misfortune of life in the background. The images of Philip Hyde, Stan Zrnich and the other landscape photographers tended to speak of timelessness and at the same time remind us that we are here by either grace or accident and that this moment, this vivid now is fleeting. ‘Gather ye photographs while ye may.’ The Golden Decade shines on forever and glows golden for only one bright decade. It continues on and ended just yesterday: a book worth learning from and keeping safe for studying over and over; a time in history worth struggling to grasp and hold onto whether you are a historian, collector, photographer or artist in another medium.

Golden Decade Shows at Laguna Art Museum and Minnesota Street Project

February 22nd, 2017

Current Golden Decade Exhibits and Book Events

Smith Andersen North Gallery

Laguna Art Museum

Minnesota Street Project

San Francisco Art Institute

Bankhead Theater Gallery

The Golden Decade, San Francisco, Ansel Adams, Minor White and the California School of Fine Arts History

Piers, Waterfront, San Francisco, California, 1948 by Philip Hyde. An original vintage contact silver print of this photograph was the first to sell at the first Golden Decade Show in 2010 at Smith Andersen North, attended by over 500 people. (Click on image to see large.)

Art historians, critics, gallerists, curators and museum staff have taken to calling the 10 years after World War II, 1945-1955, The Golden Decade of photography on the West Coast and elsewhere around the nation. Not only did the arts bustle and surge with energy and popularity in San Francisco and elsewhere on the West Coast during this period, but a new department of photography founded by Ansel Adams would in time have world-wide influence as it helped to transform photography into art.

The photography department at the California School of Fine Arts, renamed the San Francisco Art Institute in 1961, was the first College level art program to teach creative photography as a full-time profession. At the recommendation of Beaumont Newhall, who had earlier co-founded with Ansel Adams the first museum photography department at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, Ansel Adams hired and transplanted Minor White from Princeton to San Francisco to lead instruction at the new photography program at CSFA. Read the never before published Philip Hyde notes on a number of Minor White’s lectures including the famous one on Space Analysis, the notes from the Space Analysis Lecture start a short portion of a series of blog posts based on Philip Hyde’s notes.

Minor White in turn invited to guest lecture some of the most influential photographers at the time including Dorothea Lange, Imogen Cunningham, Lisette Model, Nancy and Beaumont Newhall, Homer Page, Alma Lavenson and Bill Quandt. The early classes at the school also took field trips down to Carmel to visit the studio of Edward Weston, now considered by many the father of modern photography. Students also photographed with Edward Weston in the field at nearby Point Lobos State Natural Reserve.

Ansel Adams taught a number of classes beginning in 1945. By 1946, Ansel Adams offered the first full-time Summer Session. Philip Hyde first attended the school and Minor White first assisted in this class. By the Fall of 1946, Minor White took over teaching and by the Fall of 1947 Philip Hyde began the full-time program, which ran three years through 1950. Read more on “The Early Days of Ansel Adams’ Photography Program.” Eavesdrop on a conversation with “Philip Hyde and Benjamen Chinn talking about Ansel Adams’ Photography Department.” Discover why “The California School of Fine Arts Makes Art History.”

In subsequent years, students from the Golden Decade period put on a number of retrospective exhibitions, most of them located at the school, renamed the San Francisco Art Institute.

Contemporary Interest and Events

Interest in the photography of both students and teachers from the Golden Decade era stepped up significantly when Stephanie Comer, Deborah Klochko and Jeff Gunderson began interviewing and researching their 2006 book, “The Moment of Seeing: Minor White at the California School of Fine Art.” During the lead up to their book release, in December 2005, four months before Philip Hyde passed on, David Leland Hyde took his father to a reunion lunch in San Francisco organized by Ken and Victoria Whyte Ball. At the reunion lunch classmates who had not seen each other in many years, sometimes as long as 50 years or more, exchanged stories, signed each other’s prints, helped identify people in photographs, and talked of the years since photography school and the unforgettable times during photography school.

Victoria Whyte Ball is the daughter of Don Whyte, one of Philip Hyde’s classmates. After the reunion lunch, Ken and Victoria Whyte Ball began to help Bill Heick, Ira Latour and Cameron Macauley edit and complete their long-planned and only partly written book called “The Golden Decade: Photography at the California School of Fine Art 1945-1955.” The Golden Decade would be another retrospective volume, already many years in the making, though told more from the students’ perspective. All three of the original authors lived to see a self-published version of this book come out in 2010 in conjunction with a gallery show at Smith Andersen North in San Anselmo, Marin County, California. Over 500 people attended the Golden Decade show opening and a Philip Hyde vintage print of “Piers, Waterfront, San Francisco” was the first to sell. The show was extended for an extra month to include a new closing reception and book signing.

From 2010 to 2015, there were more Golden Decade Group Exhibits and a number of shows by the individual photographers at Smith Andersen North and elsewhere. At Mumm Winery in Napa, California, the holders of a large permanent collection of original Ansel Adams prints, Mumm Napa put on a Golden Decade show in February 2014. Stefan Kirkeby, gallery owner of Smith Andersen North, who had taken a special interest in representing and helping Golden Decade photographers, put on exhibitions of photographic prints by Golden Decade artists Benjamen Chinn, Ruth-Marion Baruch and Pirkle Jones, Leonard Zielaskiewicz, Charles Wong, Paul Caponigro, Philip Hyde and John Upton. The widely acclaimed and attended Smith Andersen North show This Land Is Our Land: Philip Hyde and the American Wilderness, put together by Stefan Kirkeby and David Leland Hyde, enjoyed a turnout larger than any other show at the gallery besides the 2010 Golden Decade show.

Redesigned New Golden Decade Book Published by Steidl

During this five-year period, Ken and Victoria Whyte Ball searched for a publisher for the Golden Decade. Finally in 2015, the internationally respected premier photography book publisher Gerhard Steidl of Göttingen, Germany, decided to publish a redesigned version of the Golden Decade book. Steidl published the book in April and shipped it to the US in May of 2016.

Book signings kicked off in the US at the famous Strand bookstore in New York City on Saturday, October 29. The Strand, one of the world’s most prominent English language bookstores, was established in 1927 and claims to contain 18 miles of books. From then on Steidl has kept Ken and Victoria Whyte Ball busy doing book signing events. Other Golden Decade photographers who are still alive, with us and have also attended and signed books at some signings include John Upton, Gerald Ratto, David Johnson, Stan Zrnich, Charles Wong, Stephen Goldstein and Zoe Lowenthal.

Following the book signing at the Strand in New York, the next major Golden Decade event was an opening and book signing at Smith Andersen North for Golden Decade photographer Gerald Ratto. Gerald Ratto’s photography exhibit was on view from November 12 thru December 23, 2016. Many Golden Decade fans bought books and had them signed at this gallery opening.

Golden Decade Gallery and Museum Shows

In case anyone missed this show and signing, an official Golden Decade Exhibition sponsored by Smith Andersen North and Casemore Kirkeby, housed at the Minnesota Street Project in San Francisco, opened February 4 and will run until February 28, 2017. At the opening for this Minnesota Street Project show, Stefan Kirkeby, owner of Smith Andersen North and co-owner of Casemore Kirkeby, made introductory remarks and introduced Jeff Gunderson, San Francisco Art Institute Librarian and Archivist and contributor to The Moment of Seeing. After Jeff Gunderson spoke, Jack Fulton, photographer and retired SFAI professor, talked further about the history of the photography program.

Also opening this month, on February 19, a Golden Decade museum show will run through May 29, 2017 at the Laguna Art Museum. Founded in 1918, the Laguna Art Museum is the premier museum of California Art created by California artists.

On March 1, 2017 back at the photography program campus at the San Francisco Art Institute, there will be another Golden Decade book signing and presentation. Specifics on the two shows currently up and ongoing and the upcoming signing at SFAI are listed below.

The Golden Decade Exhibit
February 4 thru 28, 2017
Smith Andersen North—Casemore Kirkeby
Minnesota Street Project
1275 Minnesota Street
San Francisco, California 94107
415-851-9808

The Golden Decade: Photography at the California School of Fine Arts, 1945-1955
February 19 thru May 29, 2017
Laguna Art Museum
307 Cliff Drive
Laguna Beach, California 92651
949-494-8971

The Golden Decade Book Signing and Panel Discussion
A Conversation with Ken and Victoria Whyte Ball, Jeff Gunderson, Stefan Kirkeby and Golden Decade Photographers John Upton, Stephen Goldstine, David Johnson, Charles Wong, Gerald Ratto and Stan Zrnich.
6 pm, March 1, 2017
San Francisco Art Institute
800 Chestnut Street
San Francisco, California 94133
415-771-7020

The Golden Decade Art Exhibition at the Bankhead Theater Gallery
March 4 thru May 1, 2017
Book signing March 10 at 6:30-8:30 pm
Bankhead Theater
Livermore Valley Performing Arts Center
2400 First Street
Livermore, CA 94551
925-373-6800