Gallery of Fine Art Photography - Atlanta GA

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Pirkle Jones – Forged His Own Identity While Collaborating with Ansel Adams and Dorothea Lange

Pirkle Jones was a student in the first class taught by Ansel Adams at the California School of Fine Arts in 1946, but their relationship quickly moved beyond that of student-teacher and became a lasting friendship and professional collaboration. When Jones married fellow student, Ruth-Marian Baruch, in 1949, the ceremony was held in Adams’ living room.READ ENTIRE ARTICLE

Grape Picker, 1956

Grape Picker, 1956

The photographs of Pirkle Jones were hung near that of his friend and mentor in Ansel Adams: Before and After, an exhibition co-curated by the Booth Western Art Museum and Lumière. This show displayed over 25 Adams prints that place the master photographer in the context of art history. The 106 print exhibition featured four by Pirkle Jones.
The exhibition included prominent photographers that preceded Adams, as well as younger photographers, such as Jones, who were influenced or taught directly by Adams. The exhibition was on view from November of 2015 – April of 2016.
Jones became Adams’ assistant in 1949 and was part of an influential circle of Bay Area photographers that included Imogen Cunningham, Minor White, Edward Weston and Dorothea Lange. In 1952, Jones began a 28-year career teaching at the California School of Fine Arts, which is now known as the San Francisco Art Institute. Jones also taught at the Ansel Adams Workshops.
Worker, Saratoga, 1958

Worker, Saratoga, 1958

When Adams was commissioned to document wine-making at the Paul Masson Vineyards in California in 1958, he asked Jones to join the project. The resulting body of work by both men depicts the planting and harvesting of grapes, portraits of workers, wine, and the architecture of the winery. The Smithsonian organized the photographs into a traveling exhibition called Story of a Winery in 1962. An online version of Story of a Winery is available on our Exhibition Page.
Dorothea Lange was another photographic luminary who played an important role in Jones’s career. In 1956, Lange asked Pirkle Jones to collaborate with her on The Death of a Valley project.
The Last Memorial Day, 1956, From: Death of a Valley

The Last Memorial Day, 1956, From: Death of a Valley

Their work depicts in heartbreaking detail the end of the Berryessa Valley: the exodus of its inhabitants, human and animal, abandoned possessions and the submersion of the land itself, which took place once the Monticello Dam was completed. The valley was destroyed to provide water for the Solano County. The land was considered to be some of the most fertile in the region, but the government engineers saw it as a natural site for a dam.
Dorothea Lange, McKenzie Store, 1956

Dorothea Lange, McKenzie Store, 1956

Jones and Lange photographed during the community’s last year, as a way of life experienced for generations came to an unnatural end. Jones later described the project with Lange as “one of the most meaningful photographic experiences of my professional life.”
Though Adams and Lange have garnered more acclaim within the canon of photography, the work of Pirkle Jones stands solidly on its own merit.
“Some (critics) acknowledge the debt owed to both of these camps (Adams and Lange) yet fail to look further. To understand the full range of Pirkle’s images and the issues that have continually interested him, however, it is necessary to acknowledge a complex and idiosyncratic visual sensibility,” wrote Tim Wride in the Aperture monograph, Pirkle Jones California Photographs. “And while this sensibility may have been informed and abetted by those whose work is better known, Pirkle’s images have, nonetheless, a strength and conviction that is visually sophisticated, intellectually grounded, emotionally charged and unique.”
Jones, who passed away in 2009 at age 95, did not go unappreciated by the photography community during his lifetime. His most notable subjects ranged include the natural world, the San Francisco counter culture scene, the Black Panthers, migrant workers and even treasures found at local flea markets. His work has been shown in numerous solo and group shows across the United States and abroad.
“I think that Pirkle Jones is an artist in the best sense of the term,” Adams once wrote of his colleague. “His statement is sound and resonant of the external world as well as of the internal responses and evaluations of his personality. His photography is not flamboyant, does not depend upon the superficial excitements. His pictures will live with you, and with the world, as long as there are people to observe and appreciate.”

Posted in: a Deeper Look

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In this post from our blog archives, we bring attention to a 70’s film by Thom Tyson about Wynn Bullock, documenting the artist and his philosophy in his own words.

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Photo Credits: Pirkle Jones - Dorothea Lange, 1956
(Silver Gelatin Print - 10 x 8)

Street geometry.

Paul Strand - From the Viaduct, 125th Street, 1915
Photogravure - 13 x 10

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