By Elizabeth Thompson
Photo Courtesy of CCP
"Boxed Sets: Portfolios of the Seventies" - Robert Fichter's "Air Power" is one of the pieces in the Center for Creative Photography's new exhibit.
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday, March 24, 2005
A Tyrannosaurus rex flashing a sinister smile. A car's headlights' cutting through the darkness of Paris at night; the bare branches of the trees in the background looking like spindly coral reef.
These are some of the photographs from the exhibit "Boxed Sets: Portfolios of the Seventies" on display through May 29 at the UA's Center for Creative Photography.
The exhibit ranges from the works of Ansel Adams to Helmut Newton and shows how boxed sets were used as a means for photographers to sell their portfolios to galleries and universities, just as we buy boxed sets of music or films today to create our own private libraries.
Britt Salvensen, curator for the Center of Creative Photography, said boxed portfolios served as a good way for galleries to jumpstart their collections.
"Portfolios allowed photography to be absorbed into the contemporary art market and to allow it to be evaluated against other media," Salvensen said. "This exhibit really marks the beginning of that expansion of the photography field."
She said the huge rise of photographers releasing portfolios in the 1970s was due largely to the companies that published them and produced limited editions of original prints, and not by the photographers themselves.
French photographer Brassaļ, famous for his photographs of Paris after dark, worked with the first portfolio-publishing company, Witkin-Berely Ltd., to release his collected works.
"Producing these portfolios could be a lot of work for the photographers to do on their own," Salvensen said. "Working with a publisher could be a big relief for them."
Salvensen said publishing portfolios marked the beginning of museums and galleries beginning to feature photography with more traditional forms of media like painting or sculpture.
She said the boxed set also lends creativity to the act of how a photograph is hung.
"In a boxed form, portfolios can come to museums or collectors and the photographs can float free from the packaging," Salvensen said. "They can be arranged differently, in any way and not be confined, or bound, as they might be in a book."
This freedom of arrangement is seen in the exhibit's display of iconic fashion photographer Richard Avendon's 1976 boxed portfolio, "The Family," of 69 photographs he took when commissioned to cover the bicentennial presidential election.
Eight headshots of different political figures featured have been mounted. Ralph Nader's bad posture and sullen expression make him look remarkably like a gloomy teenager next to the fixed stare and pursed lips of then-Texas congresswoman Barbara Jordan.
Salvensen said the National Endowment for the Arts' support for artists through grants also helped photography's emergence into the art world of the 1960s and 1970s, and the exhibit features an array of prints from NEA-funded portfolios which range from photographs of kitschy roadside attractions with Steve Fitch's "Dinosaur Highway" to Larry Clark's photographs of junkie life in Tulsa, Okla.
"The NEA never gave them a specific project to work on," Salvesen said. "Most of these artists gave themselves the assignment of depicting the national landscape. They wanted to show how things were changing in areas like suburbs or border towns."
She said that after Ronald Reagan took office, the NEA's funding of photographers steadily declined.
"It never really picked back up, and now there are lot fewer opportunities for photographers to receive these grants," Salvesen said. "The 70s looked more like a golden age for photographers in that sense."
Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. former New York Times photography critic Andy Grundberg will give a slide lecture, "On and Off the Wall: Photography as Art in the 1970s and Since," in the Center for Creative Photography Auditorium.