Whether at work in the lonesome Irish countryside or on the sunny beaches of Southern California, artists have always been influenced by their surroundings. A new exhibition of photographs focuses on artists who have made particular places a central focus of their work, and have been influenced by the details of these places. On view from April 21 through November 4 in the Julien Levy Gallery, Particulars of Place: Photo Portfolios from the Collection, features the work of six leading photographers, and includes more than 50 images from portfolios (series of prints contained in special boxes). From an intimate portrait of an artist's garden in France to an exploration of an early 19th century Philadelphia penitentiary, this exhibition drawn from the collection reveals artists' varied responses to their sense of place.
"The Museum is fortunate to have portfolios by significant photographers from around the world, many of which have not been on view for some time," Curator of Photographs Katherine Ware explained. "We are delighted to present this select group, which gives you a sense of how varied the approaches of different artists have been in engaging with the idea of 'place.'"
American photographer and filmmaker Paul Strand (1890–1976) was an early and dedicated believer in the power of sequenced pictures. In 1940 he produced his first portfolio, a cinematically arranged series of photographs portraying village life in Mexico. Strand went on to chronicle locations as far flung as the Hebrides, Italy, France and Egypt through his lens. During his later years, the artist looked closer to home for his subjects. Strand included half a dozen images in The Garden (1976), a loving tribute in portfolio format to his own garden at Orgeval, France - which he referred to as his "observatory."
James Fee (1949–2006) is known for his dense imagery that captures survivors or remnants of social change in America, whether in crumbling factories, retired ocean liners, or abandoned civic buildings. In the series Eastern State Penitentiary (1995), Fee photographed the Philadelphia prison, which was the subject of much controversy for its Quaker approach to penitence through solitary confinement, during its operation from 1829 to 1971. The spectacular castellated building of the prison was later stabilized and opened to public tours in 1994 (www.easternstate.org). Fee made his negatives using the 19th-century wet-plate photographic process and employed other techniques to diffuse the details of the spaces he recorded, including a machine shop, storeroom, and infirmary. The hazy quality of his images suggests the passage of time and hints at the unknown lives and untold stories contained within the prison walls. Because of its proximity to the Museum, visitors can easily visit the penitentiary after seeing the photographs and compare the two experiences.
Paul Caponigro (b. 1932) is represented by 12 images from the portfolio Stonehenge, taken between 1967 and 1972. Caponigro was captivated by the ancient landmark in southern England whose true origins and purpose remain today the subject of much speculation. His images capture the monument's weathered stone surfaces and underscore their wondrous, enigmatic presence. Working with the support of Guggenheim Fellowship and a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, Caponigro recorded Stonehenge over time in different seasons, in changing light, and from various angles in his richly revealing series.
Laurie Brown's (b. 1937) Earth Edges portfolio, on view for the first time in this exhibition, looks at a decidedly more contemporary phenomenon affecting the environment. Eight of Brown's panoramic photographs are included here, capturing a series of 1980s construction sites along the Southern California coast, where the landscape appears to have been stripped bare. Brown's sparkling, saturated color prints emphasize the stark contrast between earth and sky.
John Divola (b. 1949) took an interactive approach in photographing an abandoned beach house in Malibu, California in 1977 and 1978. He documented not simply the changes made by weather, fire, and other forces, but also by his own 'interventions' into the appearance of its interior space. Divola blurs the line between photographic record and sculptural or performance art in his colorful images made for The Zuma Series: Portfolio One.
Dublin-born Alen MacWeeney (b. 1939) has long been interested in the preservation of Irish folklore and traditions. The selection of 12 photographs taken by MacWeeney of his native land is the only portfolio to include images of people, from the young daughter of a tinker to a political activist posed with his wolfhound. Through his selection of figures—including humans, animals, and trees—MacWeeney movingly evokes the spirit of Ireland in its joyful, macabre, lonesome and picturesque aspects.