A Continuum of Growth

Oct. 25, 2011

Creative Continuum is a new exhibition at the Center for Creative Photography (CCP) designed to communicate the history of the Center. In 2010, the University of Arizona celebrated the CCP’s 35th anniversary, and this exhibition represents an exploration into where the Center started and how its holdings have changed over the years.

The exhibition will run through November 27, 2011.

The CCP, a research institution within the University of Arizona, maintains a robust program of exhibitions and public lectures. It is the largest institution in the world devoted to documenting the history of North American photography. At the heart of the Center are the archives of over 200 photographers, scholars, galleries, and organizations, comprised of 4.5 million items, complemented by an unparalleled collection of more than 90,000 fine prints.

Founded in 1975, photographer Ansel Adams and then University of Arizona President John Schafer introduced the Center, putting together a group of five archives representing some of the most important photographers working at that time: Ansel Adams, Wynn Bullock, Harry Callahan, Aaron Siskind and Fredrick Sommer.

“In founding the Center, it was important to Ansel Adams that the photographs be accessible to as many people as possible,” says CCP Norton Family Curator of Photography Rebecca Senf. “It’s part of our mission. We take them out all the time for exhibits, to lend to other institutions or for publication.”

All five of these photographers had been in their heyday during the American photographic modernism of the 1920s and 30s, producing the black-and-white, sharp-focused images that distinguished the art. At the time, photographers were trying to put forth the camera as a unique artistic tool that differed from painting, largely due to its ability to capture reality.

Almost immediately after its founding, the Center began to diversify its collection, adding women artists as well as some 19th century work. Perhaps the most important addition in the 1970s was the archive of Edward Weston, one of the most important American photographers of the 20th century, who created the classic image, Pepper No. 30.

In the 1980s, the Collection gained the archive of photojournalist Eugene Smith, as well as the work of Marion Palfi, a social documentary photographer. From there, the Collection added Robert Heineken, who was an experimental photographer who worked producing images around popular culture and the media.

Then in the 1990s, the Collection added the work of fashion photographer Louise Dahl-Wolfe, most well known for her discovery of Lauren Bacall who she photographed for the March 1943 cover of Harper’s Bazaar.

Throughout its lifetime, the Collection has continued to grow year over year. Over the last 10 years, it has added both historic collections and archives, and work being done at that very moment.

“The exhibition also includes a group of archival objects as a way to illustrate the kinds of things that we have in our archival collection,” says Senf.

“I’m hoping that people will take away from this exhibition a greater understanding of where we started,” she says. “And we’re not only that modernist, art photography, black-and-white kind of collection, but we have this really broad range of very diverse and interesting things.”

Beyond the Center’s walls, the collections and research services offered have a direct impact on the creation of new knowledge about the history of photography, as well as the state of the art today. The Center and its staff offer curators and scholars the resources to borrow and curate exhibits at institutions around the world, to write journal articles, books and exhibition catalogs that are read by thousands, and create new websites accessible to the world.

“We’re constantly building a collection to represent the history of the medium,” Senf concludes, “and we use that collection in a very active way.”

Visit the current exhibition online.
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