Everything worth photographing is in California
Published: Wednesday, September 18, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, September 18, 2013 23:09
Guest speaker Doctor Audrey Goodman brought the significance and beauty of California into the Benton during her lecture titled “Everything Worth Photographing is in California: Edward Weston and Modernism’s Exploratory Gaze” on Wednesday afternoon.
Dr. Goodman is a Professor and Associate Chair of 19th and 20th Century American Literature and Southwestern Studies at Georgia State University, teaching undergraduate and graduate courses in American Realism and Naturalism, literary modernism, Southwestern American literature, regional and landscape studies, and Native American literature. She’s received fellowships from the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum Research Center in Santa Fe and the Huntington Library in Pasadena, writing about the literary and visual cultures of the American Southwest. Her recent projects include photographic portraits by Ansel Adams and Edward Weston, the iconography of the Atomic Age, the poetics of wandering, and networks of women artists and photographers in San Francisco, Los Angeles and Mexico City.
“Everything Worth Photographing is in California” is a quote from American photographer Edward Weston (1886-1958). Dr. Goodman, after thanking the Departments of Art, Art History, American Studies and the Humanities Institute, began her lecture by telling the audience not to be offended. Addressing the boldness of the statement, Dr. Goodman explained how she would explore California’s emerging view in the modern world which included displaying highly selective photographs taken of the California as an idea of the last frontier.
The first question many artists asked about representing California (or anything, for that matter) was, “what subjects deserve to be captured, documented, and transformed into art?” The practice of photography and the meaning of place rely greatly on the consideration of subject matter. Looking at the reputation of California as a golden land, but also one that can be a ruthless mosaic of interdependent and interlocking landscapes, Dr. Goodman demonstrated how artists have captured the character of the state.
In the third gallery of the Benton, on a screen set up in front of rows of chairs, Dr. Goodman projected images taken by artists like Edward Weston, Anne Brigman and Imogen Cunningham while explaining how they portrayed the landscape, from a podium. The three artists, including Willard Van Dyke, Ansel Adams, Sonya Noskowiak and Henry Swift, composed Group f/64, a group of 20th century San Francisco photographers who shared a common photographic style characterized by sharply focused and carefully framed images.
Drawing on sites like Yosemite, which represented openness, freedom and youth, Dr. Goodman described how these artists transformed views on California by photographing aspects of the Californian landscape that drew on pre-existing notions of the state. With particular focus on Weston, Dr. Goodman described how the importance of the photographs were in the relationship between the photographer and his subject. For example, Cunningham shot many photos of plants found in the state while Brigman posed her own body against the landscape. Brigman used her own portrait in sites that she knew well, juxtaposing her skin with the roughness of the exterior and creating definitive textures.
After showcasing many examples and photographs of California as taken by these 20th century artists, Dr. Goodman stayed a while longer to answer questions from the audience.