The current exhibition at Duncan Miller Gallery is Pacific Northwest: Vintage Photographs by Ray Atkeson. On view through March 29, this exhibition presents rare darkroom-printed photographs, many of which have never been exhibited.
Prominent among photographers of the American West, especially winter landscapes and the emergence of the modern ski industry, Ray Atkeson also made poetic photographs of the bustling industries gaining momentum in the region during the 1930s, 40s, and 50s. An ardent conservationist as well as an admirer of man's ambitious rush to embrace modernity, Atkeson's unique vision combined his affection for majestic, hardscrabble vistas and a fascination with the tumult of this new industrial frontier -- resulting in images that are both strange and familiar, dreamlike and indelible, magical and ominous.
When we think about the 1930s, 40s, and 50s in American history, we tend to think about the Depression, the War, the Jazz Age, Art Deco, the rise of shining metropolitan centers, car culture, the Golden Age of Hollywood, maybe Beatniks. But we don't always think of the stark, epic, inhospitable frontiers of the Pacific Northwest and the eccentric people who made their living and built their eventual empires farming, fishing, logging, shipbuilding, laying the ski industry infrastructure, and undertaking massive public works projects like dams and river diversion.
Aside from the inherently compelling content and context of his subject matter, Atkeson had a special gift for framing his compositions with striking motifs, strident angles, heroic perspective, and soaring pictorial geometries -- from the angle of a fallen tree, to the sweep of a ship's hull, or the spectacle of urban lights -- that underscore the scale of the story being told.
Atkeson has been included in several special publications, including Ansel Adams' and Nancy Newhall's This is the American Earth (1960), U.S. Camera's The Best of 1957, and John Steinbeck's last published book, America and Americans (1966). Yet the world he portrays and the visual language he uses to describe it are quite different from those of the WPA, naturalist, and avant-garde peers alongside whom he is regularly exhibited -- diverse figures like Adams, Edward Weston, Dorothea Lange, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Richard Avedon, Lillian Bassman, and Eliot Porter. In addition to publishing in National Geographic, Time, Readers Digest, Life, The Saturday Evening Post and Popular Photography, Atkeson has published nine books, including Ski and Snow Country: The Golden Years of Skiing in the West, 1930s-1950s with text by skiing legend Warren Miller, and was named Photographer Laureate of the State of Oregon in 1976.
Images courtesy of Duncan Miller Gallery.