Published: September 18, 2012
The Museum of Art Rhode Island School of Design’s (RISD) major fall exhibition, “America in View: Landscape Photography 1865 to Now,” is on view through January 13. “America in View” offers a broad panorama of the nation’s topographies and correlating narratives that reveals its ambitions and failings, beauty and loss, politics and personal stories through some 150 photographs spanning nearly 150 years.
A free opening party will be held at the RISD museum on Thursday, September 20, at 5:30 pm; all are welcome. On Wednesday, October 3, at 6:15 pm, influential photographer Sally Mann will share her evocative images and read from her forthcoming book.
From the earliest images in the show, it is clear how purpose guided style. Carlton Watkins’ 1860s painterly and atmospheric views of the sublime landscape portray the wilderness as a place of spiritual renewal and a refuge from urban problems. In contrast, Timothy O’Sullivan, employed for the government’s geological surveys in the 1870s, made purposefully spare and anti-picturesque images that seem to provide proof of empty territories needing to be studied, secured and settled.
In her essay for the exhibit’s accompanying catalog, photographer Deborah Bright, chair of the fine art department at Pratt Institute, suggests that some of the historical shifts in environmental consciousness seen in the photographs “illuminate how the works also reflect changing conceptions of landscapes as bearers of cultural meaning.”
Ansel Adams, whose mid-Twentieth Century views of nature’s majesty and vastness represent many people’s ideals of American landscape photography, omitted human impact on the land. Widely used by the Sierra Club, his stunning images of untouched wilderness encouraged conservation in the face of an increasingly industrial society.
By the 1970s, artists, including the late RISD provost and photography professor Joe Deal, saw that the environment entailed both wilderness and the vacant lot next door. Their “New Topographics” imagery depicts recently constructed tract homes, industrial parks and highway culture †inverting Adams’s exclusion.
Photographs of the past 20 years reveal a return to romantic views of the landscape, even in its degraded state, often including figures to create narratives. “America in View” was inspired by a generous gift of photographs from Deal and his widow, Betsy Ruppa.
The Museum of Art Rhode Island School of Design has entrances at 224 Benefit Street and 20 North Main Street. For more information, www.risdmuseum.org or 401-454-6500.
5 Church Hill Road / Newtown, CT 06470
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