Ruth Bernhard exhibit displays rare vintage photos

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Scott Nichols Gallery presents an exhibit that honors the life and work of photographer Ruth Bernhard. The show comprises vintage photographs gathered from Nichols’ personal collection and from private collections of Bernhard’s friends. Put together over the course of 25 years, the show includes many unpublished, rarely seen images.

Bernhard is best known for her photographs of the female nude; Ansel Adams called her the “greatest photographer of the nude.” Yet this show reveals the scope of her work, welcoming viewers to see the diversity of her interests and the range of subjects she addressed during her lengthy career.

(Courtesy photo/Scott Nichols Gallery)

“Kitten with Guitar” by Ruth Bernhard

Born in Berlin in 1905 and raised in Germany, Bernhard was the daughter of poster artist and type designer Lucian Bernhard. In 1927, she moved to New York and began pursuing photography. She met Edward Weston by chance in Santa Monica in 1935, andshortly after moved to California and began working with him, eventually moving to San Francisco in 1959, where she remained until her death last year at 101.

Early in her career, she became familiar with photographers loosely associated as Group f.64, a West Coast group that included Adams, Weston and Imogen Cunningham. (The name was derived from the smallest aperture available in the large format cameras they used.) They advocated “pure photography” and emphasized clarity of image, maximum depth of field, sharp focus and attention to detail and texture.

A complementary show at the gallery of works by Group f.64 (which closes today) contributes to understanding Bernhard’s work and her place in the field.

(Courtesy photo/Scott Nichols Gallery)

“Star Shell” by Ruth Bernhard

Her images, which are striking and in most cases modest in scale, show a modernist concern for exploring and manipulating elements that define the practice of photography: contrasting light, point of view and image cropping.

The beauty and sophistication of her work reveals itself across a range of subjects. Her formal acuity allows her to construct “Children, Harlem, 1932,” an intimate portrait of three African-American kids. “Untitled 1933 (Two Leaves),” is an image Nichols calls her “first attempt at erotica,” while “Victorian House, 1963,” captures and creates distortion. The image, which is shot through aged glass, an image is one that Nichols says, “We’ve never seen another copy of.”

And of course, there are female nudes.

If, as Nichols says, Ruth Bernhard is to be remembered for “the way she was able to photograph the figure,” it is equally important to note “always the composition and structure are preeminent in the work.”

IF YOU GO

Ruth Bernhard Vintage Treasures 1933-1976

Where: Scott Nichols Gallery, 49 Geary Street, Fourth Floor, San Francisco 

When: Through March 31st 2007

Hours: Tuesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., and by appointment.

Contact: 415-788-4641  or sngphoto@pacbell.net  

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