On my way home from the East Bay this afternoon, I stopped by the Oakland Museum of California – a wonderful museum that brings back lots of memories from the early days following its opening in 1969. The museum has almost completed a major renovation – with the new Art and History galleries now open. While visiting today, I explored the Art and History galleries along with viewing the final day showing of Richard Misrach’s photographs of the devasting aftermath of the 1991 Oakland-Berkeley fire.
Later this spring, the museum will be opening a new exhibition: The 1968 Exhibit – which I’m looking forward to seeing! I was at UC Berkeley in 1968 – and have many memories of that tumultuous year!
What drew me to make today’s stop at OMCA was following up on some of my Walker Evans explorations which reminded me to explore another great American photographer, Berkeley’s Dorothea Lange. As a contemporary of Walker Evans during the 30’s and 40’s, Lange “created an indelible record of everyday life in difficult times.” Lange gifted her personal archive to OMCA – some 25,000 negatives and 6,000 prints. Perhaps her most iconic image is Migrant Mother – shot in 1936 – shown at right.
Similar in approach to Evans, she documented the people of America in their daily routine. I found this comment about Lange’s approach in the book “Watkins to Weston: 101 Years of California Photography 1849-1950“:
If Lange had a guiding motto, it seemed to be a quote from Francis Bacon that appeared in her 1934 Christmas card and that hung over her darkroom doors: “The contemplation of things as they are, without substitution or imposture, without error or confusions, is in itself a nobler thing that a whole harvest of invention.”
Keep it simple – and direct.
In the Art Gallery, OMCA displays a very wide range of art from its collection – including several of Lange’s more famous prints in a separate alcove. I really enjoyed my tour of this large gallery and seeing a few of Lange’s prints. Also displayed were several Ansel Adams prints – including one from his early days when his images were purposely soft and painterly. Great stuff!