National Geographic Greatest Photographs of the American West opened at the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art
on the University of Oregon on Saturday, September 28. The exhibition, on view through Sunday, December 31, includes photographs by Sam Abell, Ansel Adams, William Albert Allard, Edward Curtis, David Alan Harvey, William Henry Jackson, Sarah Leen, and Joel Sartore, among many others.
Throughout its 125-year history, National Geographic has published photographs of the American West that both support and defy romantic notions of the land and its peoples. In this special exhibition, wide open spaces, spectacular rock formations, and the cowboy life are examined alongside struggles for limited natural resources, Native American cultural continuity, and new energy sources. Drawn from the significant holdings of the National Geographic Archive, National Geographic Greatest Photographs of the American West offers a broad understanding of a region that has long captivated photographers.
Organized into four sections, the exhibition focuses on a different aspect of the American West and its importance to our national identity. Legends portrays some of the cowboys, Native Americans and landscapes that define the vast area. Encounters showcases the interactions among the people of the West, visitors and wildlife. Boundaries features places where endless skies, boundless plains, and dramatic mountains meet natural and manmade limits. Visions explores the growth of the American West and where its story may go in the future.
Taken together, these images form a sort of cultural commons for popular understanding of the region. While its editorial coverage spans destinations across the globe, National Geographic consistently returns to the West and highlights the importance of the region to human imagination.
Accompanying the exhibition is the book National Geographic Greatest Photographs of the American West: Capturing 125 Years of Majesty, Spirit and Adventure, with a foreword by James McNutt, president and CEO of the National Museum of Wildlife Art of the United States.
The role of photography in creating and perpetuating beliefs and understandings about the West has been continuous and evolving, writes McNutt. Beginning with adventurous pioneers in the field and never ceasing to the present day, photography accumulated an enormous record of change beyond the 100th meridian.
The book was produced by Rich Clarkson, who also produced the 2011 Track Town, USA, a book and subsequent exhibition showing the history of the University of Oregons historic Hayward Field. Clarkson, the former director of photography and senior assistant editor of the National Geographic Society, was named by American Photo magazine as one of the fifty most influential individuals in American photography. He will present a talk at the JSMA on Sunday, October 6, at 2 p.m.
The American West was organized with the National Museum of Wildlife Art of the United States and Museums West; Presented by the Mays Family Foundation; Traveled by National Geographic. This exhibition is made possible at the JSMA by the Coeta and Donald Barker Special Exhibitions Endowment, The Harold & Arlene Schnitzer CARE Foundation, and JSMA members.