The work of the 10 distinguished photographers featured in this portfolio speaks to women’s enduring presence in a history of photography that began in 1839. It also illuminates their rich and varied contributions to reshaping that history within the context of California and the West. The artists represent multiple generations, varied cultural backgrounds and wide-ranging approaches to subject and medium. Their work has expanded dialogues that range from issues of gender and sexuality to realism, montage, abstraction, and nature, among others.
The examples included in VISIONS represent many facets of contemporary photography. A single, carefully chosen print alerts the viewer to Imogen Cunningham’s early commitment to fusing nature and modernist abstraction. Other examples crystallize Ruth Bernhard’s pioneering exploration of nature in relation to the visualizing of interior states of being, and Judy Dater’s exploration of female intellectual power in a portrait of writer Maxine Hong Kingston (2015).
While Katy Grannan works collaboratively in the production of large scale yet intimate “portraits” of strangers, men and women living rough on the streets of Los Angeles and San Francisco, Elisabeth Sunday explores the fine line between abstraction and realism, accessibility and distance in her study of a Tuareg woman in the Sahara Desert Emerge (2007).
The portfolio also reveals the wide range of intellectual and theoretical, as well as historical, models that inform and illuminate contemporary photography. While Uta Barth provides a semiotic investigation into the system of signs that allows us to distinguish between the “real” and the abstract in her example from the series Deep Blue Day (2015), Catherine Wagner’s Artemis/Diana (2014) challenges the viewer to investigate an uneasy meshing of classicism and modernity, abstraction and realism within a matrix of materials and processes often associated with the history of art.
History and representation also underlie Linda Connor’s Broken Moon, based on a haunting image of the moon taken from an 1895 glass plate negative in the Lick Observatory archives and sublimated onto aluminum. Other interrogations of history take place in Catherine Opie’s The Falls (2015) with its focus on the relationship between nature, abstraction and grandeur, and in Nigel Poor’s challenge to the ways that evidence of nature is transmitted, washed away and/or retrieved as the maimed fragments of an original document in the series Remainders: God, Sex and Animals Talking (2007).
These images not only point to the range and diversity of contemporary photography by women, they also challenge representational and conceptual boundaries as they expand awareness of the power and importance of contemporary photography in California
– Whitney Chadwick art historian and writer