Sunday, September 8, 2013

Our Photo Collection, with a new view

Before we gave our photography collection to the New Mexico Art Museum on long term loan, we hung it on the walls wherever we were living at the time.  In one apartment it could hang on both sides of a long narrow hallway which had little light and, therefore, was a perfect venue.  People who came in would ask me, “Did you take all these pictures?” even though they spanned probably 75 years!  When we had a house we put it on the staircase between a couple of different floors in our private quarters.

Everywhere it went I would see it differently.  Now for the first time we are looking at it in a museum venue at The New Mexico Museum of Art .  The curator, Katherine Ware has made a selection from our collection and it has been installed to great advantage showing highlights and giving juxtapositions to the photographs that I had never thought of.

The show opens officially on September 19 but the exhibition is installed and I am giving you a preview. The show includes Kate’s selections from four different photography collections.  Many of the photos shown relate one way or another to works in a different collection on exhibit.

Margaret Bourke White, “Skouda Munitions Pilsen,
Shell Dept. Czachoslovakia”, 1937

Kate believes that one can learn about a person by seeing what and how they collect.  I had to think about that a moment then I realized that when I walk into a home first I see if there is any art around the house and then I look at the book shelves to see what might interest our host.  At the very least, it could give me a topic of conversation during dinner!

We all see ourselves in relation to others.  In the case of someone else’s collection it’s a question of, “does mine stand up to theirs”: depending on whether you are an optimist or pessimist you might ask, “Is their’s better than mine or is mine better”.  In art one is so often comparing apples and pears that the issue is not relevant.  In this show much of the work is contemporary while our photographs are generations old.  Still, there are works which are similar and sometimes by the same artist. They are just as “good” as ours but the other collector has used a different eye.  He or she sees the world differently.

One of our photos I could not remember why I bought.  It was an image by Carlotta Corpron, “Light Follows Form”, 1946 which we acquired at a photography auction and it is so totally out of our usual range of taste or so I thought.  When I saw how Kate had installed it with a Margaret Bourke White, “Skouda Munitions Pilsen, Shell Dept. Czachoslovakia”, 1937 and the Jerry Uelsman, “Equivalent”, I realized that we had an interest in abstract photography when it created a pleasing design.   I also think that it was because I liked  photographers like Man Ray and  Maholy Nagy who played with light and form and we certainly could not have afforded them.

The person who sold us much of our collection was one of the pioneers in the field, Lee Witkin.  Lee used to say that it was all about the image not the photographer or who printed it.  This was a dealer fighting against the usual syndrome of buying names.  He would advise buying an image by a lesser known photographer that was the artist’s best image as that is what is important.  It got me thinking, if Ansel Adams  had only taken one photograph, “Moon Rise”, would he be famous today?  Probably not, and it certainly would not be worth so much. By the way, we never bought a print of “Moon Rise”!  We also felt that the quality of the print and who actually printed it was important.  For instance as Bernice Abbot got older she had someone else print her works under her supervision and after she died there was a designated printer for a short time.  We always wanted the image, taken and printed by the artist.  But we always kept in mind what Lee said.

Bernice Abbot "Barber Shop"

I am happy to report that I felt, seeing our photographs installed, we managed to do both in terms of image and printing.  We did not just buy the biggest names though we did soon realize why certain names rise to the top due to their entire body of work.

If you want to learn more about what the psychosis is that forces one to collect come to the New Mexico Museum of Art on October 13 when I will speak in a dialog with Kate Ware on why and how we built our collection.

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