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Picture the West.

Byline: Bob Keefer The Register-Guard

Photography and the idea of the American West were invented and came of age at about the same time, starting in the 19th century.

The Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art at the University of Oregon will explore the close relationship between the two this summer as 140 photographs by 19th to 21st century photographers of the Western landscape go on exhibit in a show opening Friday.

Curated by David Turner, director of the museum, the exhibit draws on photographs from private collections and from the museum's own holdings. The earliest photos are large contact prints made from ungainly glass plates by photographers lugging enormous tripod-bound cameras; the most recent are taken with more agile contemporary equipment.

Turner, a photographer himself, set out to examine the role taken by photography in our experience of the West.

``Photographs have always taught us how to understand seeing the real world,'' he said.

The earliest work in the show, which takes up the entire changing exhibition gallery at the Schnitzer, consists largely of prints that were published in government surveys and reports by such photographers as Timothy O'Sullivan.

Those reports, Turner said, were used to document the then-little-known Western expanses as well as to encourage people to go see them - an indirect form of advocacy through art.

Among those older photographs is the work of John Hillers, who accompanied John Powell's second journey down the Colorado River in 1871. Hillers photographed Native American villages as well as historic ruins in the West.

Although the primary purpose of these documentarians was to inform, some of the photographs are quite beautiful - especially considering the heavy equipment and difficult processes used to produce them. The early landscape photographers didn't exactly have motor-drive digital cameras, and making a single photograph took a lot of considered effort.

``That's why these scenes deserve to be stood in front of, like a fine painting,'' Turner said. "Imagine the photographer spending hours setting up a single shot. Adjusting every single part of the image. Everything has to count in a shot like that."

The middle part of the show is the work of more traditional advocates of preservation, such as Ansel Adams and Eliot Porter, both of whom were involved with the Sierra Club. Porter, who shot in the 1960s, is represented by a number of dye-transfer color photographs of nearly abstract landscapes. The unusual color process created prints of great clarity and subtle colors.

The most contemporary work includes black-and-white landscapes of clear-cuts by Robert Adams, who lives in Astoria, and panoramic black-and-white landscapes by Mary Peck, who lives in Port Angeles, Wash.

Her work is lush and romantic, tracing the course of a river as it flows from mountain to sea; his is harsh and a bit accusatory. A third contemporary photographer in the show is Mark Abrahamson of Stanwood, Wash.

The museum is sponsoring a number of gallery talks in connection with the show. Writer Barry Lopez is to join Peck and Abrahamson in a brief talk at the opening reception Friday.

ART PREVIEW

Advocates for the Land: Photography in the American West

What: 19th, 20th and 21st century landscape photographs of the West

Where: Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art, 1430 Johnson Lane, on the University of Oregon campus

When: Opens with a reception from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Friday, then continues through Sept. 18

Hours: 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesday; 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday through Sunday.

Admission: $5

CAPTION(S):

C.R. Savage shot ``El Capitan, 3,000 feet, Yosemite, California'' in 1861. The albumen print is about 16 inches by 20 inches. Boldfaceand this is light text and this is more light text Photo Source Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona: Ansel Adams Archive Yosemite also became a favorite subject of Ansel Adams, who shot ``Clearing Winter Storm'' in 1944; the print will be part of the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art exhibit. The show has work of contemporary artists, too; Mary Peck shot her ``Queets River Valley'' in June 2001. Mary Peck
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Title Annotation:Arts & Literature; Since the beginning of the U.S. push into the West, photography has been along to capture the scenery
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Jul 3, 2005
Words:682
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