California Historical Society exhibit depicts an oyster farm in action 

The thoroughness with which photographer Evvy Eisen has documented all aspects of oyster farming at the Drake’s Bay Oyster Company in west Marin impresses even the most casual observer.

The photos in “Oyster Farm,” on view at the California Historical Society through Jan. 19, capture the process in overwhelming detail — from seeding to harvesting, including removal of the oysters from shells and preparation for inserting new seedlings to start the process again,

Portraits of individual workers, focusing on their particular roles, add a human dimension to the exhibit. For example, “The Oysterman” shows a man in his work clothes proudly carrying a huge bunch of shells containing oysters on each arm.

The shells are particularly interesting, almost resembling abstract impressionist paintings.

Eisen, who worked on the show for a year, has a unique approach that gives her images a distinctive richness that doesn’t detract from their everyday subject matter.

While the center of the exhibition features 47 of Eisen’s contemporary photographs, other images, including some from the Historical Society’s archives, round out the show.

Vintage photos illustrate the history and development of oyster farming in the Bay Area and specifically at Drake’s Bay since the 1940s.

The oyster company is currently at the center of a controversy about whether it will be permitted to operate after its lease expires in 2012. The National Park Service, which administers the Point Reyes National Seashore, claims the farm is a threat to the area’s ecology and wildlife; the company contests the notion.

Though Eisen said the exhibit makes no attempt to deal with issues involved in the disagreement, one can’t help but feel that the dispute has motivated, in some way, her work and its juxtaposition to archival photos.

IF YOU GO

Oyster Farm

Where: California Historical Society, 678 Mission St., San Francisco
When: Noon to 4:30 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays; closes Jan. 19
Admission: $1 to $3
Contact: (415) 357-1848, www.californiahistoricalsociety.org

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Murray Paskin

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