When new director Anne Breckenridge Barrett arrived on the job in January, the University of Arizona’s Center for Creative Photography was in the middle of an exhibition pairing contemporary landscapes by Mark Klett with classic landscapes by Ansel Adams.
Adams, of course, is famous for pristine visions of untouched nature. Klett more often searches out historic landscapes that have changed over time, degraded by development or simply worn down by nature.
The show gave Barrett an idea: Why not regularly put together old-and-new pairings to tell the story of changes in photography over time?
It’s something the center can do that no other institution can, Barrett says proudly.
She made the new Heritage Gallery her first major initiative, carving out a space in the center’s main gallery to regularly showcase long-held works from the archives partnered with new contemporary acquisitions.
The strategy neatly addressed a longtime and sometimes impassioned debate among center fans about whether the museum should devote itself to 20th-century masters or surge forward into the future. The answer, of course, is that the museum is uniquely qualified to do both.
Barrett called on Chief Curator Rebecca Senf to put together the first in a series of shows. “I challenged the curatorial team,” she says. “Becky had some wonderful thoughts about telling the story of photography and its continuum.”
The Heritage Gallery opener is a beautiful exhibition of 31 photographs of subjects from snowy forests to portraits of artists, created by seven iconic photographers active in the early to mid-20th century and 13 from later generations.
Edward Weston (1886-1958) is paired with Lynn Stern, born in 1942; both took lovely photographs of dunes, his up close and abstracted, hers distant and dreamy. Humorous zoo images by Garry Winogrand (1928-1984) are juxtaposed with a misty portrait of a bird in situ by Georgia Valli — the youngest artist in the show, born in 1985.
One of Senf’s most moving pairings puts Adams (1902-1984) with Patrick Nagatani (1945-2017). Both men had a keen interest in the Manzanar Relocation Center, where many Japanese-Americans — including Nagatani’s parents — were detained during World War II. In 1943, Adams made 200 portraits of Manzanar detainees, many of them American citizens. In 1994, 51 years later, Nagatani shot the ruins of the camp. Both men photographed the white memorial marker in the camp cemetery, Adams in black and white and Nagatani in color; the works hang side by side, searing images of a lingering tragedy.
The Heritage Gallery inaugural exhibition runs through Jan. 12 at the Center for Creative Photography.