SAN MARINO, CA.-
To celebrate the expansion and reinstallation of the Virginia Steele Scott Galleries of American Art, The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens
presents an exhibition of works from American photographer Karen Halversons Colorado River series, on view May 30 through Sept. 28, 2009. Downstream: Colorado River Photographs of Karen Halverson will be on display in the Scott Galleries Susan and Stephen Chandler Wing, inaugurating a new changing exhibition space that will highlight photography and works on paper that, because of the fragile nature of the medium, cannot be placed on permanent display.
The exhibition will feature 24 works from Halversons Downstream series as well as a sampling of images from The Huntingtons historic holdings related to the Colorado River region, including photographs from John Wesley Powells pioneering expedition down the Colorado in 1871 and a snapshot album compiled in 1940 by Mildred Baker, one of the first women to successfully navigate the river from Green River, Wyo., to Boulder (now Hoover) Dam.
Halverson (b. 1941) says she woke one wintry morning in 1994 convinced that she needed to photograph the Colorado River. An accomplished landscape photographer who had already spent 20 years exploring the American West, she embarked on a two year encounter with the vast terrain along the rivers serpentine route.
The desire to explain, understand, and experience the 1,700mile riverwhich originates in Wyoming and Colorado before converging in Utah toward its terminus in Mexicohas exerted a powerful influence on a long line of explorers, scientists, thrill seekers, writers, artists, and photographers. Once largely wild, the modern river has been tamed by dams built to slake the American Wests thirst for water and power. Today the rivers reservoirs supply 30 million people.
In her resonant imagery, Halverson speaks both to this immutable, rugged past while confronting the rivers complicated and often contested present, says Jennifer Watts, curator of photographs at The Huntington. Lush green riverbanks frame a seemingly remote Colorado River in Shafer Trail, Near Moab, Utaha dramatic departure from the river turned lake in Wahweap Marina, Lake Powell, Arizona, in which the setting sun illuminates a satellite dish, a trio of passersby, and a jumble of houseboats set against distant rock outcroppings. Davis Gulch, Lake Powell, Utah captures Halversons voice especially succinctly: the power of nature in the form of a gigantic sandstone wall dwarfing a tiny group of plastic lawn chairs, lined up along the river bank, with not a soul in sight.
In my travels along the Colorado, says Halverson, sometimes I find beauty, sometimes desecration, often a perplexing and absurd combination.
Halversons large format color photography references the 19thcentury era of exploration when the United States, still reeling from the Civil War, saw photographers fan across the West to make pictures for scientific and commercial ends. Many of these iconic views by William H. Bell, John K. Hillers, Timothy OSullivan and others form the core of The Huntingtons superlative photography collection. Halverson consulted these works in preparation for her own trips.
The two years Halverson spent hiking, driving, and rafting along the Colorado brought her to a more profound understanding of the river and her relationship to it. During her travels, Halverson wrote, I feel my place, small and finite in relation to space and time: I feel my self, expansive and trusting.
The exhibition is accompanied by a book Downstream: Encounters with the Colorado River, which includes an essay by Halverson and a foreword by William Deverell, professor of history at the University of Southern California and director of the HuntingtonUSC Institute on California and the West (University of California Press, 2008). Available in the Huntington Bookstore & More.