Martha’s Vineyard 114B
Martha’s Vineyard 114B, 1954
Gelatin silver print
Gift of Mr. Robert B. Menschel 77.145.21
(September 21, 2012 – January 13, 2013)
America in View: Landscape Photography 1865 to Now offers a history of photographs of the American landscape primarily through the collection of the RISD Museum. The ever-evolving definition of landscape photography encompasses everything from seemingly pristine vistas captured with 19th century view cameras to the decaying urban streets composed today from Google Street View. The RISD Museum’s collection of American landscape photography begins at the end of the Civil War in 1865, when photographers traveled west with government survey teams and railroad companies to record the country’s extraordinary natural features and resources. Ever since, landscape has remained a compelling subject for photographers, who have revealed through their images this country’s ambition and failings, beauty and degradation, politics and personal stories.
In this gallery you will find a variety of approaches to contemporary landscape photography. In the larger gallery, a chronological display takes us from the earliest images of dramatic wilderness through numerous shifts of style and context into the 21st century.
America in View was inspired by a generous gift of photographs to the RISD Museum from the collection of the late Joe Deal (RISD Provost 1999–2005; Professor of Photography, 2005-2009) and his widow, Betsy Ruppa, as well as gifts from friends and colleagues in Deal’s honor.(October 10, 2003 – January 11, 2004)
This exhibition, drawn entirely from the Museum’s collection, complements Interior Drama: Aaron Siskind’s Photographs of the 1940s, opening November 14. Both exhibitions celebrate the centenary of the birth of Aaron Siskind (American, 1903-91), one of the most influential photographers of the 20th century. During the 1940s, Siskind made a radical move away from documentary photography toward the personal, metaphorical approach seen in the works on display here.
Siskind’s early training in literature and piano led him to see in photography the ambiguity, layered meaning, and terseness of poetry and a structure inspired by music. In his photographs of the 1940s, he discovered that he could transform subject matter by isolating and framing images from the exterior world to give him fresh and expanded meaning. The flat, rectangular space of the photograph became the arena for an “interior drama.”
Architecture was one of Siskind’s earliest subjects, and it always remained important to his work. Urban walls, in particular, appealed to him because aging surfaces—peeled, stained and scrawled—conjure visions of other lives. Rock was also rich subject matter, for Siskind and the graphically powerful photographs of rock walls in Martha’s Vineyard exhibited here show how he used that imagery metaphorically to suggest tensions and relationships.
Shot in Chicago “The Pleasures and Terrors of Levitation” series captures the bodies of casual divers hurtling through space and uses them to reflect psychological states. Although people were infrequent subjects, they were always at the heart of Siskind’s work. He strove to connect with people, whether by photographing evidence of human handwork, by creating compositions suggestive of social interaction, or simply by eliciting emotional responses to his art.
During the period covered by this exhibition, Siskind taught photography at the Institute of Design, Chicago, from 1951 to 1971, and at Rhode Island School of Design from 1971 to 1976. After he retired from teaching, Siskind remained in Providence and continued making photographs until his death in 1991.
Jan Howard, Deborah Bright, and Douglas Nickles. American in View: Landscape Photography, 1865 to Now. Providence: Museum of Art Rhode Island School of Design, 2012.