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CCP gallery exhibit exposes the art behind the final photograph


Ian C. Mayer
Arizona Daily Wildcat

Archivist Amy Rule speaks to a small crowd at the Center for Creative Photography yesterday evening. She addressed the research materials that the CCP collects, which help reveal the stories behind the art of photography.

By Graig Uhlin
Arizona Daily Wildcat,
February 2, 2000
Talk about this story

Last night the Center for Creative Photography displayed the primary resources behind photography - correspondence, negatives, manuscripts and camera equipment that artists acquire over a lifetime.

The center's exhibit, recently returning from its New York City premiere, showcases 36 renowned photographic prints by artists influential to the history of photography and its evolution.

The collection, which is the largest of its kind in the country, spotlights photographers' archival materials.

Works by acclaimed photographers Ansel Adams, Louise Dahl-Wolfe, Tina Modotti, Paul Strand and many others were on display and represented some of the most important contributions to the art of photography in the 20th century.

The exhibit was accompanied by the second of a series of Gallery Talks related to its Images for An Age: Art and History exhibit.

"The main point we were trying to make," said CCP archivist Amy Rule, "is to show that we have a vast range of photography and that's it not just the photographs that is important but also the other primary resources used to study photography."

Rule also said that a gallery exhibit presents an orderly and calm setting that only "hides what goes on behind the scenes" of a work of art.

"Life is very messy," she said. "Art makes sense out of our own crazy lives."

However, Rule demonstrated the messier side of art - the artifacts of an artist's life that give insight into the creation of a work and the environment from which art is born.

Rule reminded the audience that art is not produced in a vacuum, but rather, the product of ordinary people.

Situated in glass cases beneath the artist's work, gallery visitors cannot flip through the pages of an artist's journal, for example.

At the talk, however, the audience was treated to samples of archives of three of the artists on display.

Rule read excerpts of Edward Weston's infamous journal, the "Daybooks," to illuminate the context out of which his Pepper #30 came.

Journals are particularly enlightening, said Rule because they present the "continuity of a life, from day to day to day."

The journal, kept in a modest three-ring binder by the artist, details his life in Mexico after he left his wife with his 14-year-old son, Chandler.

Also included in the presentation were letters sent by Weston's wife and one sent by Chandler to his brother.

The archival materials describe a loosely-formed narrative that historians use to reconstruct the history behind various works. They may also offer insight into how an artist gets his or her ideas.

As an example of this, Rule revealed to the audience artist Louise Dahl-Wolfe's memoir of her European tour with a fellow photographer.

The exhibited piece represented a style that grew out of the artist's trip across Europe in which she photographed exotic people and places.

CCP has also acquired the actual camera that Dahl-Wolfe used to take her photographs on her tour - just one of the many treasures that University of Arizona's world-renowned center has managed to acquire over the years.

All these treasures have given historians the ability to understand the context of some of last century's most famous photographs, such as W. Eugene Smith's "Walk to Paradise Garden," now on display.

The Center also has on display a series of Smith's photographs, one before his time in World War II, one during his hospital stay after being injured in the war, and one taken after the war.

The series shows the transition from an arrogant, self-assured man to one despondent and uninspired to work. That is, until he saw his two children walking in his garden, which produced one of the most striking and poignant images in recent American history.

These archival materials have drawn many scholars to do research at CCP, drawing on the vast amount of resources the center has to offer.

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