Wednesday, October 08, 2008

The Infinite Landscape Exhibition

The University of Michigan's Museum of Art has been operating an off-site gallery (1301 South University, Ann Arbor ) dedicated to photography while the construction of the UMMA addition has closed down the museum. For photography lovers, that has been a wonderful opportunity to see photography-only exhibits that have, for the most part, been well-executed.

The latest exhibit, "The Infinite Landscape: Master Photographers from the UMMA Collection" runs until January 4, 2009, but I would see it as soon as possible, and as many times as possible. Landscape photography is a broad genre, and this exhibit definitely showcases some of its ardent practitioners - Ansel Adams, Paul Caponigro, Brett Weston, William Henry Jackson, Eliot Porter, and Michael Kenna, to name just a few. If one is an Ansel Adams fan, you'll be pleased with the 6 images of his that are shown (the Aspens is my favorite). However, landscape photography IS infinite. Whether one photographs an intimate view of a pond (Nenuphars by Atget) or the enormity of the larger Yosemite Valley (Adams, William Henry Jackson, Carleton Watkins), the "landscape" can be almost anything. I was pleased to see a Calotype from William Henry Fox Talbot - Loch Katrine, as well as an Orotone print from Edward S. Curtis of Canyon de Chelley (an Orotone is a print made on glass with gold pigment painted over the emulsion -- an interesting effect). I don't know how big the UMMA photographic holdings are, but this show certainly has some breadth to it. Although I wasn't especially impressed with the Eliot Porter Cibachrome prints, or the Yellow Umbrella by John Butho, there are plenty of other photographers' works there I did enjoy. I really liked the Two Barns by Minor White - fantastic use of raking light from a setting sun against, well, two barns. Brett Weston's images engaged me, especially the untitled image of succulent plants. Only one image from his father - China Cove, was in the exhibit, and perhaps it's only because the UMMA lacks other Edward Weston landscapes that they did not include more (yes, I'm an unabashed Edward Weston fan). It's hard to say anything negative about Michael Kenna's work - his sublime landscape imagery is a wonderful counterpoint to the stark sharpness of Adams' Monolith in Yosemite. I was also pleased to see some works by Kartesz, Josef Sudek, Karl Struss, Walker Evans, and Peter Henry Emerson. Steichen's Balzac photogravure is perhaps one of the more famous images on display, though perhaps the weakest landscape. There are, it seems, an infinite number of ways to portray a landscape, and although this exhibit runs for several is not infinite, so I suggest that you go and pay a visit.

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