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September 13, 1997 to November 30, 1997
The Friends of Anne Brigman:
Bay Area Pictorialists 1900-1925

Presented by the Art Department

The circle of photographers that surrounded Pictorialist Anne Brigman in the early part of this century is the subject of an exhibition, The Friends of Anne Brigman: Bay Area Pictorialists 1900-1925, on view September 13 through November 30, 1997, at the Oakland Museum of California. The exhibition, organized by Oakland Museum Curator of Photography Drew Johnson, presents 21 photographs by members of Brigman's Bay Area circle. Produced at the height of the Pictorialist style in California, the photographs combine heavy retouching with exalted, allegorical themes to produce moody, unabashedly emotional imagery.

Anne Brigman was central to the remarkable flowering of Bay Area photography in the early twentieth century. The only West Coast photographer to be included in Alfred Stieglitz's New York-based Photo Secession, by 1906 Brigman had reached the pinnacle of California camera artists. Until her departure for Long Beach in 1929, her studio on Brockhurst Street in Oakland was a mecca for serious photographers. "Perhaps because of her secure position in this milieu," says Johnson, "Brigman naturally fell into the role of mentor, becoming a mother figure to younger and less well-known photographers."

Anne Brigman was central to the remarkable flowering of Bay Area photography in the early twentieth century.

Established Pictorialists such as Oscar Maurer, Johan Hagemeyer, Francis Bruguiere and Adelaide Hanscom frequented her home. Younger visitors to her studio, who in a few years would decisively change the direction of creative photography, included Edward Weston, Imogen Cunningham, Roger Sturtevant and Dorothea Lange, among others. It is a measure of the importance Brigman's home had achieved in the local photography scene that, when Willard Van Dyke and his partner, Mary Jeanette Edwards, were looking for a gallery for the new Group f.64, they chose Brigman's old Brockhurst studio.

The images in the exhibition are striking for their soft-focus renderings of figures, urban and industrial scenes, and landscapes. Johan Hagemeyer's Castles of To-Day, 1922, creates an abstract pattern of blurred angles, curves and shadows from a cityscape of San Francisco, while his Tile Factory, 1923, depicts a lone tower rising from a composition of curved and square tiles. Imogen Cunningham's allegorical Claire Shepard, Clairvoyant, c. 1910, portrays a woman in a gauzy, wind-blown veil beside a dramatically gesturing male figure. More prosaic images, like John Paul Edwards' In Oakland Harbor, c. 1920, or Arnold Genthe's The Devil's Kitchen by Night, 1907, present grimy scenes transformed by the photographers' unusual treatment. Other images include dreamy, indistinct landscapes and evocative portraits whose features and expressions are softened to emphasize their air of contemplation or mystery. A final print in the exhibition, Edwards' Scouts of the Air (Bi-planes), c. 1920, renders a biplane as a featureless, dark shadow amidst clouds, while below and behind it, one can barely make out the trace of its smaller companion.

The photographers include Sigismund Blumann, Francis Bruguiere, Imogen Cunningham, John Paul Edwards, Arnold Genthe, Johan Hagemeyer, Adelaide Hanscom, Margrethe Mather, Oscar Maurer, Emily Pitchford, Karl Struss, Roger Sturtevant, Edward Weston and Willard E. Worden. The exhibition is presented in conjunction with a major traveling retrospective of Brigman's work, A Poetic Vision: The Photographs of Anne Brigman, on view simultaneously. A Poetic Vision was organized by the Santa Barbara Museum.

For more photography at OMCA visit our photography resource page.

 

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