Medium Cool

They labored in isolation in Prescott, yet the work that Harry Callahan, Aaron Siskind, and Frederick Sommer created in the middle of the 20th century has gone on to international acclaim. The three self-taught photographers, toiling together in solitude, began the transformation of classic mid-century photography from flat journalism into a recognized art form, and created arty photographic approaches still used in the medium today.

Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Arts’ “At the Crossroads of American Photography: Callahan, Siskind, Sommer” observes not only the impact of the work by this important trio of friends (often referred to as the “holy trinity”), but the ways in which their friendship and collaboration shaped our awareness of photography as art. They shifted a narrow American view of photography into a wider discussion by way of non-traditional techniques such as double exposure, high contrast prints, and cliché verre. Siskind re-imagined nature as abstraction, turning grass and boulders into brush strokes and pencil shadings. Sommer’s images tended to document other artists’ work using new and peculiar lighting techniques. Callahan returned to the same subjects -- the city and his beloved wife – again and again to demonstrate how a love for one’s subject is key in effective photographic art.

The exhibition includes 151 prints of remarkably high quality, many of them from a private collection and not displayed publicly before.

Tuesdays-Sundays. Starts: Jan. 31. Continues through Aug. 9, 2009
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Robrt L. Pela has been a weekly contributor to Phoenix New Times since 1991, primarily as a cultural critic. His radio essays air on National Public Radio affiliate KJZZ's Morning Edition.
Contact: Robrt L. Pela