Curating the West
Curator of Photography & Visual Culture
Oakland Museum of California Oakland, CA (510) 318-8400 www.museumca.org
What event (gallery show, museum exhibit, etc.) in the next few months are you looking forward to, and why?
I’m looking forward to helping put together a tour of the recent OMCA exhibition, Dorothea Lange: Politics of Seeing, which closed here in Oakland last August. The show is scheduled to appear in London and Paris as well as American venues. Lange has many fans in Europe, which I find fascinating because at first glance, she would seem a particularly American artist. But as we discovered in Oakland, her work as a social justice photographer is not only timeless but of particular relevance today.
What are you reading?
I’m re-reading one of my favorite novels, Little Big Man by Thomas Berger. The next exhibition I’m curating is of 19th century Western photography, and the book is perfect for helping me get in an Old West frame of mind.
Interesting exhibit, gallery opening or work of art you’ve seen recently.
I recently visited the Museum of Popular Culture in Seattle for the first time. As a kid who grew up on Star Trek and movies like The Day the Earth Stood Still it was a real thrill to stand in the presence of props, costumes and models that stirred my imagination so powerfully.
What are you researching at the moment?
I’m currently doing research for an upcoming exhibition of photography of Andrew J. Russell, who documented the construction of the transcontinental railroad in the 1860s. OMCA holds several hundred of Russell’s original collodion glass-plate negatives, including the famous East Meets West image of two locomotives meeting nose-to-nose at Promontory Point in Utah. Though not as well-known as figures like Carleton Watkins and Eadweard Muybridge, Russell’s work is, in my opinion, every bit as powerful and visionary.
What is your dream exhibit to curate? Or see someone else curate?
I’m currently surveying and helping to catalog several large commercial photography and photojournalism collections which the museum has held for a number of years but has never systematically exhibited. They include everything from the archive of a color postcard publisher to crime scene and accident photos from the 1940s and 1950s. The experience has reminded me of the amazing richness and aesthetic value of such work. I would love to begin a series of exhibitions to share these little-known but important works.