“One-of-a-Kind” Is a Photography History Lesson at Phoenix Art Museum

Robert Fichter b. 1939 Roger Mertin's Back, Leon County Produce June 1976 Gelatin silver print Center for Creative Photography: University of Arizona: Gift of the artist © Robert W. Fichter
Robert Fichter b. 1939 Roger Mertin's Back, Leon County Produce June 1976 Gelatin silver print Center for Creative Photography: University of Arizona: Gift of the artist © Robert W. Fichter
Courtesy of Phoenix Art Museum

Photographs representing the entire history of photography are currently on view in the “One-of-a-Kind: Unique Photographic Objects from the Center for Creative Photography” exhibition at Phoenix Art Museum. The exhibition was organized by the museum and the Center for Creative Photography at the University of Arizona in Tucson. “One-of-a-Kind” was curated by Rebecca Senf, Norton Family Curator at the museum.

It features 65 works created using a variety of photographic techniques, including some used as early as the mid-19th century. For a generation steeped in digital culture, it’s a refreshing reminder that smart phone selfies are but one iteration of the act of creating, capturing, and sharing images and ideas. The hallmark of the exhibition is diversity — of artists, photographic processes, subject matter, and creative expression.

Yulla Lipchitz 1911 - 2003 untitled ca. 1980 Polaroid print Center for Creative Photography: University of Arizona: Gift of the artist © Estate and Family of Yulla Lipchitz
Yulla Lipchitz 1911 - 2003 untitled ca. 1980 Polaroid print Center for Creative Photography: University of Arizona: Gift of the artist © Estate and Family of Yulla Lipchitz
Courtesy of Phoenix Art Museum

“One-of-a-Kind” includes works by more than three dozen artists, including Andy Warhol and Ansel Adams. One is best remembered for his pop art paintings, the other for his photographs of the American landscape. For those who aren’t fine art photography nerds, the names of other featured artists might not ring a bell. Still, they’re significant. 

Works by many of these photographers are part of the permanent collection of museums such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. Several received multiple National Endowment for the Arts fellowships. Some are pioneers in the field of photography. All are good reasons to see the exhibition, even if photography doesn’t normally rock your world.

Thomas F. Barrow b. 1938 Glass Studies 1977-1978 Gelatin silver print Center for Creative Photography: University of Arizona: Purchase © Thomas Barrow
Thomas F. Barrow b. 1938 Glass Studies 1977-1978 Gelatin silver print Center for Creative Photography: University of Arizona: Purchase © Thomas Barrow
Courtesy of Phoenix Art Museum

Belgian photographer Pierre Cordier invented the chemigram, in which a resist is used with photographic paper to create images much like wax is used with fabric to make batik designs. American photographer Dan Budnick captured key moments in the civil rights era, as evidenced by a 2013 TIME magazine cover sporting one of his photographs of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Several “One-of-a-Kind” artists have Arizona connections. Harold Jones was the first Center for Creative Photography director. Jim Hajicek is a master teacher at Art Intersection, a Gilbert art space specializing in photography. Carol Panaro-Smith is their curator and program director. Tucson-born Christopher Colville calls Phoenix home, and David Emitt Adams earned his MFA from ASU in 2012. Adams creates photographic images of Arizona landscapes on rusty, discarded cans. 

Many featured works are gelatin silver prints, a type of photographic image made without a camera by placing objects onto photographic paper or another light sensitive material. But each has its own unique twist. One artist used ignited gun powder to create an image, while another abraded his print using sandpaper. Several incorporate additional media such as India ink, oil paint, spray paint, graphite, or chalk pastel.

For museum-goers who feel inspired by “One-of-a-Kind” to explore more photography, there are several options. The Phoenix Art Museum’s INFOCUS photography support organization offers several events each year, and The Center for Creative Photography recently opened an exhibition called “The Pure Products of America Go Crazy,” which “explores the accumulated byproducts of an American way of life.”

“One-of-a-Kind: Unique Photographic Objects from the Center for Creative Photography” continues through October 18. Museum admission is $15 for adults. Find more information, including the exhibition brochure complete with photographs and descriptions for each work, on the Phoenix Art Museum website.

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