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UMMA Inaugurates New Photography Gallery with Brett Weston Landscapes

Brett Weston

Courtesy and copyright of the Brett Weston Archive (brettwestonarchive.com).

As part of UMMA’s phased efforts to incorporate more twentieth-and twenty-first century art and culture throughout the building, the Museum inaugurated in August its new Photography Gallery on the second floor of the Maxine and Stuart Frankel and the Frankel Family Wing. This flexible and accessible space, sited adjacent to the South and Southeast Asian Gallery, allows the Museum to regularly showcase its own distinguished and widely admired photography collection—more than 3,000 images that date from the medium’s historic origins to innovative contemporary work and represent a broad range of techniques—through special exhibitions and thematic installations.

UMMA Senior Curator of Western Art, Carole McNamara, chose the ravishing imagery of Brett Weston, one of the most iconic photographers of the twentieth century, to launch the Photography Gallery exhibition program. Weston (1911–1993), the son of photography pioneer Edward Weston (1886–1958), developed his own strong visual aesthetic that combined exploiting the tensions between positive and negative space, the influences of painters such as Diego Rivera and Georgia O’Keeffe, and a profound interest in the abstraction of landscape. Weston was also one of the celebrated Group f/64 photographers—which included Edward Weston and Ansel Adams among others—who rejected soft-focus, poetic photographs that were heavily manipulated in the dark room. Like them he embraced natural light, large-format cameras, and the use of aperture f/64 to achieve the greatest depth of field and an overall sharp focus. The tectonic clarity and purity of his photographs, however, is distinctive even among the work of his peers.

Brett Weston, Landscape, Germany, from the Europe PortfolioBrett Weston, Landscape, Germany, from the Europe Portfolio, 1960, gelatin silver print, UMMA, Museum purchase, 1978/2.34)

Following Brett Weston Landscapes, U-M Professor Larry Cressman of the Penny W. Stamps School of Art and Design, Residential College, and Literature, Science, and the Arts will offer his own take on the Museum’s photography holdings in Flip Your Field: Photography from the Collection (December 7, 2013–March 16, 2014). This is the second exhibition in UMMA’s Flip Your Field series, each curated by noted University of Michigan faculty members. This series asks these guest curators to consider artwork outside their field of specialization from UMMA’s renowned collections to challenge their own thinking as well as that of UMMA’s audiences. Professor Cressman will present two discrete displays: a salon-style arrangement of straightforward images of trees by artists throughout the history of photography, which comments on the act of collecting; and photographs manipulated to reflect each artist’s creative vision–presented individually in order to absorb the message and intent.

Rounding out the lively and diverse first season in the UMMA Photography Gallery will be An Eye on the Empire: Photographs of Colonial India and Egypt (March 22 – June 29, 2014). Offered in conjunction with the UM 2014 winter theme semester India and the World, and drawn from UMMA’s collections, the exhibition explores how nineteenth-century photographers captured views of important monuments in the storied British colonial territories as souvenirs for Europeans traveling to India and Egypt during the rise of the modern tourism industry.

Lead support for Brett Weston Landscapes is provided by the Lois Zenkel Photographic