Works of Adams, Butcher and Ketchum on display in Black & White exhibit

By Gary Walker

Since its inception four years ago, the G2 Gallery in Venice has made it a mission to feature photography that has a strong conservation and preservation component. Typically, in an exhibit, gallery attendees view a series of photographs by one artist or perhaps two, showing in one setting.

But since June 26, one exhibit has allowed G2 patrons to see a trifecta of the most celebrated conservation photographers of the 20th century; each distinctly unique in their own way but also sharing the ever-present theme of environmental protection.

Black & White is a compilation of Ansel Adams, Clyde Butcher, and Robert Glenn Ketchum, some of the world’s most influential conservation photographers. It includes work from Adams’ Portfolio Two, Butcher’s Visions of America and reintroduces Robert Glenn Ketchum’s rarely seen black and white photography from his Winters portfolio.

Gia LaRussa, G2’s marketing director, thinks some patrons might not expect to see Ketchum’s work alongside prints by Adams and Butcher. “People will be a little surprised to see him in the exhibit,” she predicted. “In my opinion, it’s some of his most remarkable work.”

The majority of Ketchum photographs are from his earlier works in the 1970s and 1980s.

“It’s very flattering to be in a show with Ansel,” Ketchum began in an interview with The Argonaut last month, shortly after the opening of the show. “I think it’s an interesting concept on Jolene’s (Hanson, the gallery’s curator) part because she’s comparing what (Adams) did as a historic figure, and Clyde and I are contemporary photographers who went off into different directions.

“The show shows the legacy and the byproduct of (the Adams) legacy.”

LaRussa says Butcher, who has shown previously at G2 and took a tour of the Ballona Wetlands on his last trip to Los Angeles, most closely represents the ideals of the environmentally conscious photographers in the exhibit.

“His images are beautiful, and they have a conservation theme in mind,” she said. “Robert is more willing to photograph the man-made, ill effects on nature.

“We want to give people the opportunity to see places that they otherwise might not see.”

Of the three photographers, Ketchum is the one who wears his political views on his sleeve the most. He was included in Audubon magazine’s centennial edition on its list of 100 people “who shaped the environmental movement in the 20th century” and is known for his overt political messages in his photography.

Much of that political passion was honed during the late 1960s, a turbulent era when Ketchum came of age amid the civil rights struggle, the Chicano social movement and the burgeoning environmental scene.

“The signature of my career has been political,” he said.

Ketchum thinks his political activism has cost him commercially.

“When you put up things that I have in terms of critiques of the U.S. Forest Service or particular corporations, all of a sudden (museum representatives) are saying to me, ‘We’re interested in your work, but not your context, so we’re going to leave your text out,’” he lamented.

“Ansel certainly did in his time what he understood to be politically useful to move forward those ideas, and Clyde has been successful with trying to protect the Florida Everglades.”

Ketchum views the type of activism that Adams and Elliot Porter, an Adams contemporary known for his color nature photographs who also mentored Ketchum, engaged in as being “not fully mature.”

“They had institutions like the Sierra Club publishing their relatively proactive books, but neither of them stood up in the limelight quite aggressively and said, ‘This shouldn’t happen,’” Ketchum said. “There was no social media then, so that was probably hard for them to conceive of that.”

Ketchum said, “But by the time that I did the Tongass book in the 1980s, we were borrowing from the old school by handing it out as well as doing things that the ‘old school’ had never done.”

The photographer was referring to his 1987 book “The Tongass: Alaska’s Vanishing Rain Forest,” which is about the nation’s largest national forest and the earth’s largest remaining temperate rainforest. Through his photography, Ketchum spotlighted Alaska’s heavily industrialized ports and dilapidated forests as well as its rainforest.

Environmentalists credit “The Tongass” as being instrumental in the passage of the 1990 federal Tongass Timber Reform bill, which protected an extra one million acres of the 16.7 million-acre forest from timber cutting, naming 300,000 acres of that as wilderness.

The Adams exhibit has been at the gallery since Feb. 21. Hanson said the iconic nature photographer’s views on the environment were a key factor in the gallery’s decision to show Portfolio Two.

“When we decided to put together the collection, (his love of conservation) was one of the major reasons why we wanted him, as well as him being an amazing photographer and having an amazing legacy,” Hanson said in a February interview. “His mission in life was really to protect land. He wanted others to see nature the way he did and he wanted them to see it so they could understand the importance of protecting it for our future.”

LaRussa also noted that Adams was considered quite politically active during his halcyon days of the 1930s and 1940s. “And because of his activism, people listened to him,” she said.

Ketchum applauds G2 for showcasing artists who not only have the commitment to environmental preservation but also to those who use their art to highlight a political message.

“Jolene has embraced my work and she sees its role historically,” he said. “My work that she’s showing is mostly over 30 years old, so there’s no strong business advantage to her. She’s doing it because she thinks it has an important place in landscape history so that her audience sees it and asks questions about it.”

LaRussa said the gallery is breaking new ground by having Adams, Butcher and Ketchum in the same show.

“This is the first exhibit with a comparative essay where we will ask the public to compare and contrast the three photographers,” she said.

The Black & White exhibit ends Sept. 16. ¤