San Francisco


Arts of the Bay Area, San Francisco Museum of Art

Sixteen photographers exhibit: Gini Leonard, Phiz Mozesson, Eugene Anthony, Ruth-­Marion Baruch, John Caminiti, John Collier, Imogen Cunningham, Hansell Mieth, Otto Hagel, Dorothea Lange, Ernest Lowe, Joe Munro, Miriam Young and Allen Willis. Each show a number of works linked by a theme such as Women Shoppers, Beginnings of a Wom­an, Unemployment, etc. With one ex­ception these photographs are mostly sentimental social documents, inocuous images of the innocence of childhood, toiling workers, exploited field hands and poor foreign peasants. The excep­tion is one solitary and unrepeatable photograph of Hansell Mieth, reproduced (I think) some time ago in Life magazine, of a soaked, bedraggled, human-looking ape seated disconsolate­ly in a lake of water rimmed by distant mountains, ruminating . . . a master­piece that shows up the paucity of the rest of the work exhibited, In at­tempting to make a certain type of feeling such as pity visual, these photog­raphers are too narrow in their means. The complexity of their own nervous systems should suggest to them the unbelievable emotional range a human being is capable of discerning and of triggering through photography in others. Nor is sufficient value paid to the scale, size or presentation of the images. Today culture is in rivalry with mass culture; the wide screen of the movies and huge advertising billboards. These photographs in an age of little technical limitation are too precious.

John Coplans