Sunday, March 3, 2013

Photography A to Z

We recently attended a lecture by Katherine (Kate) Ware, Curator of Photography at the New Mexico Museum of Art where we have put our personal photo collection on loan. The Museum stores its photographs alphabetically by artist, hence Kate’s lecture title “Photography A to Z”.

Naturally we wanted to learn more about the Museum’s permanent collection.
Years ago a former curator and director decided that they were no longer interested in much of their historical photography collection and gave most of it to the New Mexico Museum of History across the street. It was interesting to learn, however, that they still had 8,000 photos in house.

In organizing the lecture, when Kate encountered a letter of the alphabet where she did not have an artist to fit into that construct, she found a substitute.  For “Q” she chose the word Quality and talked about a couple of photographs that were beautifully conceived and printed, but not necessarily by well known names.

Kate said that there were lots of constituencies in the unusually large audience of 125, that she wanted to recognize. For the letter “C” she chose a Julia Margaret Cameron (1815-1879) of Alfred Lord Tennyson and mentioned that there was another on loan from a private collection (ours). I am taking this opportunity to show some images from our collection. This is our Cameron of King Arthur.

The Museum has a healthy representation of female photographers because one of the largest donors to the collection was Jane Reese Williams and that was her interest and what she collected.  Another artist mentioned in this regard was Judy Dater (1941- ) and here we own a very well known image she took of the famous photographer, Immogen Cunningham (1883-1976) called “Immogen and Twinka”.

The Museum has made an effort to include artists who were born or worked in New Mexico.  One that I did not know had a connection to the state was Beaumont Newhall (1908-1993) who was a famous pioneer in the field as a photo historian, as well as a photographer.  He started as the librarian at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, went from there to George Eastman House in Rochester, New York and then came to live in Santa Fe and taught at the University of New Mexico.  Already in 1937, at the request of Alfred Barr, Jr., MOMA’s first director, he curated the exhibition, “Photography 1839-1937” .  The accompanying catalog was ground-breaking, “Photography a Short Critical History”, and it was key in bringing photography into the mainstream in this country.

For “F” it was the “Farm Security Administration” which was a 1930’s program to give work to artists.  We have one of the artists that she showed, Russell Lee.

One photographer where the museum has quite a different type image than ours is
Victor Masayesva.  In fact, we kept our photos by the artist out of the photographs on loan because we hang them at home.  For me they made a bridge of our collection of photographs acquired back East and our Native American collection which is here in New Mexico.  Victor is not only a photographer but also a film maker.  He is a member of the Hopi tribe who received  scholarships both to the Horace Man School in New York City as well as to Princeton University.

In some respects the lecture was an invitation to join FOCAP, the Friends of Contemporary Art and Photography, in a fund raising effort but it was a most enjoyable plea.  Every exciting lectre has a hook or gimmick to give the audience something to remember other than the  facts and figures.

Kate Ware came up with quite an original one: seizing on her lecture title she sang the beginning of the children’s “ABC” song at the start of her lecture and bookended it with the last words of the song at the end.  What made it work?  She has a wonderful voice.

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