PRINT September 1964



TEN YEARS AGO—perhaps only five years—the Bay Area museum or gallery visitor who was interested in looking at photographs could consider himself fortunate if he saw two or three shows a year. To be sure, there were several ill-fated attempts to initiate galleries de­voted solely to exhibiting and selling photographs, but these galleries lasted at most for the span of a couple of exhibits, because there are still only a handful of people who collect photo­graphs, and the galleries rapidly went broke.

Today, thanks largely to the sympa­thetic interest of John Humphrey at the San Francisco Museum of Art and of Robert Toren, who has turned the front room of his portrait studio on West Portal into a gallery which shows prints by established northern Cali­fornia creative photographers, there are photographs in abundance. During the last three months, there were at least nine shows but there was little of signi­ficance shown. There was much that was downright awful. One can only hope that continued exposure to photo­graphs will create an enlightened audi­ence. In roughly chronological order:

Ruth Bernhard, Toren Gallery:
“Landscape of the Body” contains a number of Miss Bernhard’s curiously aseptic, classical studies of female nudes. Her figures are exactly placed and lovingly and directly photographed. Occasionally she uses the trick of dif­fusion or double printing, but she does it half-heartedly, as if she were trying on somebody else’s bright idea. Miss Bernhard is an essentially honest pho­tographer whose point of view is well expressed in her photographs.

John Wiebenson, John Kouns, Derek Ellis, and Betty Pollock, Agora:
John Kouns, a photographer with a sen­sitive eye and a strong sense of social justice, has photographed Negroes and whites in the Freedom March and in the attempt to work out interracial con­flict. His photographs seem the pre­liminary sketches for what will turn out to be a long term search. Betty Pollock has made snapshots of chil­dren, and has blown them very large. They might be fascinating to the par­ents of the children, but they have no further appeal. One of the other two photographers had been to Mexico, and the second seemed to have picked up a camera for the first time the week be­fore, and didn’t know what to do with it.

Charles Kessler, San Francisco Mu­seum of Art:
In “Rural Missouri, Season—Spring” Kessler has recorded land­scapes in rural Missouri during April and May of 1962. The photographs were made, he says, with Pentax, Ex­akta, Contaflex, and Leica cameras. And in this exhibit, at least, it is obvious that the cameras made the photographs. Certainly no human eye could have looked at the landscape and seen so little.

Dwain Faubion, San Francisco Mu­seum of Art:
Faubion has made coy little table-tops of bits of wood, rock, plastic ice tray dividers, and other odd­ments which he has photographed with loving skill. His interest, however, seems to be in the arranging rather than the photographing. One suspects that he is going through a phase of being frustrated sculptor rather than photographer. His introduction is the most fascinating part of his show.

 San Francisco Public Library:
Knight has photographed San Francisco longshoreman and philoso­pher, Eric Hoffer. He unfortunately feels that a number of fairly adequate photo­graphs made from about the same angle and showing Hoffer with about the same expression—at his desk, in front of television cameras—have more impact than one truly good photograph occupying the same space. He is wrong.

Theo Jung, San Francisco Public Li­brary:
The exhibit of Jung’s work con­tains examples of his graphic design as well as photographs, for Jung, after having been a photographer for the Farm Security Administration, became more interested in this type of design than in photography. His design has a pleasant Art Nouveau flavor, and so, for that matter, do his photographs.

Marx Iye, 45 Ecker Gallery:
The title of Iye’s show “Some Women I Knew Before the Bomb Fell (and Other Things to Make a Poet Sing),” is a clue to its general hokum. The (beautifully made) prints are large and colorful, and have pretentious titles added to them as afterthoughts. Mr. Iye speaks repeated­ly of “Birth Trama” (sic). Sick indeed!

Ernest Braun, Toren Gallery:
Braun’s show is divided between black-and­white and color photographs. His color prints explore the patterns of nature rather directly—the ocean, leaves, pools—and they range from prints which look like rather unimaginative illustrations for a book on the sea­shore to very sensitive examinations of the bubbles nestled in a leaf or ripples on a blue pool. His black-and-white prints are another matter. He has ab­stracted the patterns of leaf skeletons, weeds, or shells with an almost breath­taking feeling for high style design, but his prints are carelessly and slop­pily made as if he had gotten tired of the project before finishing it. Back­grounds are muddy; stems which should be forcefully printed trail off into emptiness. With elegant printing, these would be exquisite designs.

Gordon Bennett, San Francisco Museum of Art:
Gordon Bennett’s photographs of broken tombstones, picturesque churches, f alien fences, shattered windows are extremely com­petent, but they add nothing to the field of Nostalgia-Neuralgia that hasn’t been said before. Over and over and over again.

Paul Rico, Hartley Gallery:
Mr. Rico’s show differs from the others shown last summer, and for that matter from any other show within memory, because it is accompanied by photo­graphs of signed (notarized even!) statements by A. C. Morgan, Director of the Southwestern Institute of Arts, 657 Jordan Street, Shreveport, Louisi­ana, and by Jean Despujols, “noted painter,” also Shreveport, to the ef­fect that Mr. Rico is really and truly an honest-to-God artist. Nonsense. Mr. Rico’s prints are so incompetent that everything else shown recently posi­tively sparkles beside them. Mr. Rico has seen nothing that hasn’t been seen better before—lovers under a bridge across the Seine; mothers with children, even, for heavens sake, Ray­mond Duncan. And his print quality (aside from his awfully creative prints where he has meaninglessly reversed the negatives—a technique that was pretty daring about forty years ago) ranges between the soot-and-whitewash and the two barely distinguishabl shades of grey.