When lists are compiled of Louisville treasures, more often than not, the University of Louisville Photographic Archives are included. Exactly why this is so may be lost on people outside of the worlds of art, history or journalism. But the walls of the Cressman Center for Visual Arts are currently filled with all of the evidence anyone would ever require to understand why. Retrospect: Celebrating 50 Years of the University of Louisville Photographic Archives opened on September 7.
Walker Evans – Church, South Carolina.
Curator Elizabeth E. Reilly has taken great care in the positioning of the work, with images juxtaposed to reveal connections, some of which are somewhat obvious but still powerful. A picture by Gary Winogrand that shows Jesse Jackson and Hugh Hefner seated together at a 1972 fundraiser next to a photograph by Louisville native Richard Bram capturing Jackson at the Occupy Wall Street protest that took place last year charts a clear line through the long career of the once controversial social activist that is no less meaningful for being so easy a choice. The 1972 version has both fists exuberantly raised in the air, but Bram’s camera captures the world-weary wisdom gained of a further forty years of experience.
Other pairings, such as classic images of Babe Ruth and Pee Wee Reese alongside recent pictures of The Louisville River Bats, approach a more pedestrian level of observation but remain compelling.
Far more subtle and intriguing are the relationships to be discovered in groupings, such as that including Guy Mendes, Jean Thomas and Kate Matthews in which small details of form and human gesture are echoed in black-and-white images taken many years apart but speaking to the same tone and feeling of time and place. Since the older photographs were chosen by the modern day artists, the ancestry of influence may not be surprising. But one has to wonder if the contemporary artists themselves, upon seeing the combinations, have gained an even deeper understanding of their own place in the developing history of the medium.
J.C. ReigerStudio, Unidentified, 1918.
The format of pairing specific photographers lends formal consistency to the format but also allows recognition of local artists that serves to underscore the rich legacy of superior local talent behind the camera throughout the years: Sarah Lyon, Ted Wathen, Bob Hower, Mary Carothers, Barbara Crawford, John Nation and Guy Mendes are just a few of the Kentucky and Indiana photographers represented here alongside famous names such as Dorothea Lange, Walker Evans and Jerry Uelsmann.
The exhibit strives for more than simply representing the range and breadth of the archives. It certainly does accomplish that goal. But the depth of the archive collection allows this show to become something of a de facto retrospective of photography in America. It may not be one of the stated goals, but the exhibit almost cannot help itself from reaching for this ambition. From detailed and objective, journalistic observation to sumptuously rendered art photography, it charts many approaches to the use of the camera.
Retrospect: Celebrating 50 Years of the University of Louisville Photographic Archives
Tim & Dair Mathistad
Katie & Chris Haulter
Kathy Todd Chaney
Angie Reed Garner