Photo exhibition at Williamson Gallery : a look through the lens at travel and portraiture

By Noor Asif ‘16Staff Writer

A gallery full of photographs, a majority of which are black and white and precede the new millennium, creates an aura of beauty and nostalgia mingled with depth. The intensity of simplicity pervades the gallery. The Ruth Chandler Williamson Gallery at Scripps College has created such an atmosphere quite successfully with its current exhibition titled “Focus on Photographs: Building a Collection at Scripps.”

The photographs that make up this collection have been accumulated over the years, beginning in early 20th century. Many of the photographs are extremely valuable, including works by Edward Weston and Ansel Adams. Prior to this exhibition, the photographs were put in storage, hidden from the public eye, according to Chrysanna Daley ‘16. Now, they are finally mounted on the walls of the gallery with great care so that they may leave an impression on the viewers with their artistic energy.

The gallery has separated the photographs by two major sections: portraiture and travel. The portraiture gallery was the more striking. It featured some familiar faces, like A.F. Bradley’s photograph of Mark Twain, his bright eyes shining beneath his wisps of illuminated white hair. There are also several photographs of Ruth St. Denis, a modern dancer in the late 19th and early 20th centuries who introduced Eastern themes into her performances. Arthur Kales photographed her in American attire, while Edward Weston photographed her posed as a Geisha. It is fascinating to see how the same person can appear so different according to the style of the various photographers. Perhaps the most familiar photograph is the one of Friday Kahlo leaning against a mural, photographed by Lucienne Bloch.

The travel section does not have as much variety as does the portraiture section, yet the works are still remarkable. There are several pieces by Francis Frith from his travels to Egypt that depict the architecture of the area. Some photos feature people, including women clad in burkas (the veil that covers a woman’s face and body). There is an image of a grand mosque, next to which is an image of a more decrepit stone building. The photographs succeed in absorbing the viewers and allowing them to get a feeling of the place being photographed, despite their monochromatic color scheme.

The gallery also has several books on display that have photographs printed onto them. One of the books featured a photo taken of the Toll browsing room in the 20th century. It has students in the picture, with one girl standing in front of the mirror with her back to the photographer. Her outline is illuminated with the white light from outside that seeps in through the window. The delicate black and white colors work to the photograph’s advantage.

Throughout the gallery there are various other works that do not quite fit into themes of portraiture or travel. There is one photograph taken by Diane Arbus of a young couple sitting on a bench in Washington Square Park in New York City, circa 1965. Although it is a simple image of a boy and girl, there is significance to the image in its starkness and honesty; the subjects in the photograph are not really posing so much as being captured in a candid shot. To contrast with this piece, there is also a work by Margrethe Mather called “Two Nudes” which is much older than Arbus’s work and has a more dreamy, soft quality to its imagery. Again, this shows how photography has developed over the years and how different photographers give works their own unique feel.

There is an Ansel Adams piece in the gallery called “Winter Sunrise, Sierra Nevada, From Lone Pine, 1944.” The photograph is beautiful in that it shows the vastness of a mountain half cast over with shadow, half entirely illuminated from up to. Yet the photograph has such detail that the small size does not even matter. Even the thin branches of the trees, which closely resemble bristles of a brush in size, seem touchable and real. There is a quality of truthfulness and respect to nature that is apparent in Adams’ work. The work was donated to the Scripps College Collection by Adams’ widow, Virginia Adams, along with 21 others.

Lastly, the gallery also includes works done by faculty. For example, there is a black and white portrait by Susan Rankaitis, and a large colored photograph of a tree by Ken Gonzales-Day in the gallery.

The exhibition is ongoing until December 15, 2013 at Ruth Chandler Williamson Gallery.