Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Golden photos from the Golden State

Right Maybe inspired by Ansel Adams 1941 Moonrise...

I thought this was a quite remarkable book of photos taken by thirty-five photographers who enrolled in the California School of Fine Art but look who instructed them: Ansel Adams; Minor White; Edward Weston; Dorothea Lange; Imogen Cunningham; Lisette Model among others. With inspiration from these artists perhaps it's not surprising that the photos in the book all have something extra that lifts them above the ordinary.

The school opened its doors on 1945 under the direction of Douglas MacAgy (at the surprisingly young age of thirty-two) with the fine art section employing local artists as tutors. The photographic section opened in late 1945 with Ansel Adams using his Zone System as the essential part of the curriculum. I think it's worth saying that the  courses were open to advanced amateurs and professional photographers, the 'students' were in fact adults in their twenties or older. An interesting exception was Stephen Goldstine, who at fourteen, joined an introductory course in 1951 taught by Minor White. A significant number of adults who took the photographic course did so under the GI Bill and with declining enrolments into the fifties the school changed from art focused courses to ones concentrating on commercial art, so the golden decade in the book's title ended in 1955.

The essence of the book are mini-portfolios for the thirty-five photographers, each gets a page biography (including a photo)followed by a selection of between five and ten examples of their work, not all of these were taken while they were taking the photo course. The images include landscapes, nature, still life, portraits, interiors and plenty of commonplace street scenes. What I particularly liked about the photos was their natural framing of the subject, images that seem just right when you look at them.    

Before the portfolios there are fifty-one pages with a description of the origins of the school and some short essays by students reflecting on the courses and the tutors. Three back pages lists all those who took the photo course between 1945 and 1955.

Steidl have done their usual superb production with the 375 photos one to a page with generous margins and printed as 175 screen tritones on excellent thick matt art paper making a book of substantial contents and weight.

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