PRINT May 1966


Photography: Thomas and Margaret Tenney; Richard Weymouth Brooks

THOMAS AND MARGARET TENNEY, San Francisco Museum Of Art: The Tenneys have created a show that had to be created—the inevitable translation of Pop art from billboard to photograph, and it is fortunate that the translation was made by photographers who viewed their project so lightly and humorously. The Tenneys have not photographed advertisements aimed at a rich, sophisticated, or intellectual audience, only advertisements with mass appeal. The hamburger is seen as the ultimate in culinary delight; taking your girl for a ride in a convertible with the top down is the ultimate in status. Both Tenneys have been struck by the variety of styles of advertising and the many kinds of materials—wood, paper, neon, plastic—that have been used.

Thomas Tenney’s black and white photographs of street signs and billboards, “Pictures of Pictures of People,” have been chosen to show us what these advertisers offer us as the ideal way of life toward which we must all strive: the prototypes of round-bodied, sexy Woman and broad-shouldered, small-waisted, virile Man are expressed in paint or molded neon tubes; the happy ideal family—daddy, mommy, one girl, one boy, stand hand in hand; the elderly couple, financially secure, enjoy the fruits of their respectable life. Mr. Tenney’s photographs emphasize the two-dimensional lives of the billboard people, and, further, the two-dimensional lives of the people they have been made to appeal to.

Margaret Tenney’s eighty color slides, “Pictures of Pictures,” continuously projected in the Museum’s coffee lounge, explore more facets of the lives of the same mythological beings. She presents us with a frightening series of beautiful girls and handsome men, but her slides are imaginatively edited—slides of eyes watch us as she changes from one idea to the next—to tell a moving story of courtship and marriage. She shows us the car cult, the wedding, the bedroom suite on which the couple has made a small down-payment, the food—Mrs. Tenney’s collection of phallic hot dogs and bananas is hilarious—and the projector clicks on and on, rhythmically and hypnotically, and becomes a part of the total blood-chilling experience.

Richard Weymouth Brooks, San Francisco Museum Of Art: Besides the free-swinging, rollicking broadside delivered by the Tenneys, the humor of Richard Brooks’ photographs may pass unnoticed. It is actually only when one comes upon his pepper closeup that one sees his joke. With the pepper, we get the clue that Brooks is playing a game with us. Rather like the picture puzzles in the childrens’ magazines, “Find the nine Indians hiding in the forest,” Brooks challenges us to find the source of each of his photographs, and as soon as we have connected the pepper to Edward Weston, we can go back to look at each print to guess where Brooks got his idea. Since his sources are all well-known photographers, the game is easy. He has drawn some of his photographs of grasses and rocks from Harry Callahan; some of his photographs of the desert and cactus and Joshua trees from Brett Weston; his photograph of a nude with a tree, among others, from Wynn Bullock; his photographs of abutilon leaves and Mt. Hamilton from Ansel Adams; a calla lily from Imogen Cunningham; his clover and grass leaves shimmering with water droplets from Paul Strand; his portraits from Minor White; his photographs of social comment from Dorothea Lange; and so on. Brooks has created more game than exhibit, and his humor is so subtle that some viewers may take him seriously.

Margery Mann