Pangaea: A Portfolio of Contemporary Photography
March 8 - May 4, 2003
Images of the landscape, graffiti, industrial structures and man in motion are brought together in a singular photography portfolio entitled Pangaea. The fifteen works assembled by fifteen artists address issues ranging from the degradation of pristine nature in California's Central Valley to the transformation of urban blight into a vibrant public forum.
The photographers featured in the portfolio are all connected to San Francisco State University. Many contributors are distinguished faculty members such as Minnette Lehmann, Dale Kistemaker, and professor emeritus, Jack Welpott. Others trained in the SFSU master of fine arts program during the late 1980s, include Rod Laursen, Dean Yeishin Oshiro, and Nancy Conner.
The idea for the project originated in an earlier portfolio developed in the art department in the 1970s. This process provided an important collaborative effort for the eight-member committee organized by Rod Laursen. A sense of personal vision and technical achievement informed the selections. In various media including Ciba, C-type, and gelatin silver prints, these works share a profound concern for man's overwhelming relation to technology and its ultimate impact on the environment.
Robert Dawson's San Luis Drain, National Wildlife Refuge (1985) more overtly supports the environmental resolution posed by Pangaea. Dawson, whose work is in the collections of the National Museum of Art, The Library of Congress, and The San Francisco Museum of Art, is the director and co-founder of The Water in the West Project. Dawson began photographing California's Central Valley in the 1980s. This project, both artistic and documentary in nature, began to show an increasing concern for the loss of water resources and environmental damage in the Central Valley. San Luis Drain is a rich gelatin silver print conveying a strong sense of place. The irony Dawson presents is that what has been marred still has profound beauty.
Also included in the portfolio is Late Night (1987) by Leland Rice. This image belongs to Rice's series of photographs documenting the graffiti that covered the Wall in what was then West Berlin. Rice was intrigued by the role that the spray-painted tags and messages played in transforming one of the twentieth century's greatest symbols of oppression into a surface for the exchange of free speech. When Rice first visited the wall in 1983, he found that "accumulated over many years, countless graffiti had turned the Wall into a semantic playground of forceful messages." Rice found in the messages scrawled one atop another, layer over layer, a subject in itself. Late Night reveals much of the same gestural energy and gestalt championed in abstract expressionist painting.
Other photographers included in the portfolio also emphasize the ongoing role that technology and innovation play in the photographic field. Rod Laursen, who lives and works in San Rafael, worked primarily in color during this period. Using a professional, hand-held flash, Laursen employed flash to wash out his immediate subjects in strong light. This technique produces eerie, otherworldly visions like that seen in Untitled from 1987. The background illuminated in ambient light contrasts sharply with the glowing tree. Laursen does not alter his images digitally, yet his use of flash achieves an extraordinary result, manipulated in appearance. Minnette Lehmann, in contrast, is dedicated to promoting the use of new technology in the arts and to supporting new arts. Lehmann is also a video artist. Her Stick Up (1987) is printed from two photographs, combined into a seamless composition.