Center for Creative Photography | Face to Face: 150 Years of Portrait Photography | From the Most Extraordinary Archives | By William Meyers


Tucson, Arizona.

There is no more reason for this city to be home to the most important photographic research center in the world than there is for the small town of Perpignan in southwestern France to be the annual meeting of the best photojournalists in the world. But someone had to make things like this happen. In Tucson, that someone was John Schaefer.

Towards the end of his autobiography, Ansel Adams writes: “Following a 1973 exhibition at the Museum of the University of Arizona, its president, Dr. John P. Schaefer, suggested that I consider the university as the repository of my studies. archives. In 1974 he visited me in Carmel. We had a wonderful few hours together, wandering around Point Lobos, getting to know each other and talking about photography. I found John to be a man of extraordinary energy and imagination. . . . John’s ideas mingled with mine, and during those walks the Center for Creative Photography was born, with my archives as a starting point. ”The center opened in a small building off campus in 1975.

Portrait of Ansel Adams by John P. Schaefer in 1980.

Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona

Since 1989, the Center for Creative Photography has been housed in its own 55,000 square foot structure, the John P. Schaefer Building, part of the university’s fine arts complex. The building includes an exhibition space dedicated to exhibitions of Adams’ work and a larger space for the changing exhibits. His current exhibition, “Face to Face: 150 Years of Photographic Portraiture”, features 70 works drawn mostly from the CCP collections, including a beautiful black and white photo of Adams taken by Mr. Schaefer in 1980. Most important Still, the building houses the archives of more than 100 photographers, photographic critics and historians, photographic institutions and photographic galleries. Photographers’ archives include those of Richard Avedon, Ruth Bernard, Ilse Bing, Wynn Bullock, Harry Callahan, Paul Caponigro, Louise Dahl-Wolfe, Lee Friedlander, George Platt Lyons, Milton Rogovin, Aaron Siskind, Stephen Shore, W. Eugene Smith, George Tice, Edward Weston and Garry Winogrand. In addition, there is a collection of 90,000 fine prints taken by over 2,000 photographers, and 4.5 million related items.

Phillip Block, director of education at the International Center of Photography in New York, says: “While there are many museums that have more diverse photographic collections and larger ‘master’ and vintage quality prints , little, if any, to have the depth of archival and print material necessary to understand the practice of a working photographer. ”He cites the CCP’s collections of contextual documents: negatives, contact sheets, prints and papers. work. “An archive,” says Katherine Martinez, the current director of CCP, “gives us a window into the mind of the photographer and the process of making a photograph.”

Face to Face: 150 years of portrait photography

  • Creative photography center
  • Until May 15

Ms. Martinez left her position as director of the Fine Arts Library at Harvard to come to Tucson last July. Unlike previous directors, she is neither a photography historian (as was James Enyeart, the first of CCP) nor a curator (like Britt Salvesen, Ms. Martinez’s immediate predecessor). But she has worked at several distinguished research institutes, including the Cooper-Hewitt Museum at the Smithsonian Institution and Stanford University, and she has a clear vision of what she wants the CCP to be: “a forum for science. creation of new knowledge in photography. “

To facilitate this vision, she reconfigures the Schaefer building. At present, there are separate rooms for viewing prints and for viewing other archival material. A bequest from San Francisco photographer Laura Volkerding will allow for the creation of a unique piece where researchers can look at a photographer’s prints and read his journal entries about them at the same time. Because all materials, and especially prints and negatives, must be stored in a temperature-controlled environment, this is a more complicated construction job than it looks. Work begins this summer.

A more complex part of Ms. Martinez’s vision stems from her experience working at the Winterthur Museum in Wilmington, Del., A major center for the study of American decorative arts. The fellows of the Winterthur Research Fellowship program lived together in a house provided by the museum. This encouraged them to eat their meals together, which created a supportive environment. CCP is now able to provide grants to one or two researchers working in Tucson, but Martinez wants to develop a more robust program using Winterthur as a model.

The objective is to have a common living structure capable of accommodating two to six researchers at a time. The director believes that this kind of non-threatening setting allows disparate academics to get to know each other, stimulate each other, test “half-baked ideas” and “yeast ideas”, think and write, and create. a community of alums who will stay in touch when their time in Tucson is over. Like any good idea in the arts, it will take money. Ms. Martinez has been hired as the Director of the CCP, with the understanding that she will take care of fundraising, and this task is ongoing.

She also introduces herself to the wider photographic community, overseeing the CCP website upgrade, implementing plans for a curator to be endowed with a $ 3.5 million donation from Arthur J Bell, working with curator Rebecca Senf on the three exhibitions per year CCP provides to the Phoenix Art Museum, and figuring out how to preserve the huge digital file caches that will be the main archival material of today’s photographers: The Archives are at the heart of the Center for Creative Photography.

Jim Hughes recounts in the last chapter of “Shadow & Substance”, his biography of W. Eugene Smith, the complex negotiations in 1976 between Smith and Mr. Schaefer, with the CCP lawyers, on the financing of the transfer of the considerable archives of Smith (100,000 negatives, 30,000 prints and tons of books, phonograph records and tapes), the uses to which the material could be put, and the appointment of Smith as a visiting professor at the university. But the crux of the story is how Smith chose the CCP in the first place. Mr. Hughes suggested that he call and consult his old friend, Ansel Adams.

When Smith got on the phone and asked him about the CCP, Adams said, “Well I think that’s pretty good. It’s the best I know for what they’re trying to do. do. I have all my things there. “

“That’s all I wanted to know,” Smith said. And then he hung up.

Likewise, Norma Stevens, Avedon’s longtime business manager, says he moved his archives to Tucson in 1989 because he was impressed with Enyeart and because “there’s no place like it. this one “.

Mr. Meyers writes about photography for the Journal. See her work on

Correction & Amplification

An earlier version of this story misspelled Rebecca Senf’s name.

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