Daily Picture Show

American West

A new exhibition will be previewed Wednesday at New York's Museum of Modern Art. Into the Sunset: Photography's Image of the American West celebrates the complex mythology of the American frontier.

  • U.S. 97, South of Klamath Falls, Oregon, July 21, 1973Stephen Shore, American born in 1947, is known for his pioneering work in the medium of color photography.  Motel rooms, gas stations, plates of breakfast and stretches of highway characterize his portfolio of lurid Americana.   2009 Stephen Shore)
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    U.S. 97, South of Klamath Falls, Oregon, July 21, 1973Stephen Shore, American born in 1947, is known for his pioneering work in the medium of color photography. Motel rooms, gas stations, plates of breakfast and stretches of highway characterize his portfolio of lurid Americana. 2009 Stephen Shore)
    Chromogenic color print courtesy the artist and 303 Gallery, New York, (c
  • Ancient Ruins in the Canyon de Chelle, 1873Ireland-born Timothy O'Sullivan, 1840-1882, was known most for his photography of the American Civil War and the American West.  The latter years of his life were spent as official photographer for the U.S. Geological Survey. He was one of the first to photograph Indians of the Sou...
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    Ancient Ruins in the Canyon de Chelle, 1873Ireland-born Timothy O'Sullivan, 1840-1882, was known most for his photography of the American Civil War and the American West. The latter years of his life were spent as official photographer for the U.S. Geological Survey. He was one of the first to photograph Indians of the Southwest.
    Albumen silver print, courtesy The Museum of Modern Art, New York
  • Felling a Fir Tree, 51 Feet in Circumference, 1906 Often using a large-format camera, Darius Kinsey, 1869-1945, was a photographer of logging activities in the Pacific Northwest.
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    Felling a Fir Tree, 51 Feet in Circumference, 1906 Often using a large-format camera, Darius Kinsey, 1869-1945, was a photographer of logging activities in the Pacific Northwest.
    Gelatin silver print, courtesy The Museum of Modern Art
  • The Street of the Gamblers, circa 1896-1906Arnold Genthe was a Prussian-born photographer, 1869-1942, most noted for his images of San Francisco's Chinatown.
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    The Street of the Gamblers, circa 1896-1906Arnold Genthe was a Prussian-born photographer, 1869-1942, most noted for his images of San Francisco's Chinatown.
    Gelatin silver print, courtesy The Museum of Modern Art
  • Yosemite Valley, California, circa 1911Alvin Langdon Coburn, 1882-1966, was a prolific early 20th-century photographer. He was a luminary in the American pictoralism movement, in which photographs imitated paintings, and was one of the first to take abstract photos.
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    Yosemite Valley, California, circa 1911Alvin Langdon Coburn, 1882-1966, was a prolific early 20th-century photographer. He was a luminary in the American pictoralism movement, in which photographs imitated paintings, and was one of the first to take abstract photos.
    Platinum print, courtesy The Museum of Modern Art
  • The Road West, New Mexico, 1938Dorothea Lange, 1895-1965, is one of the better-known names in the world of photography.  Best known for her Depression-era photojournalism, she took this photograph of U.S. 54, a route often taken by families seeking work in California.  Even today its invitation to the proverbial American road trip remains relevant. (Gelatin silver print, courtesy The Mus...
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    The Road West, New Mexico, 1938Dorothea Lange, 1895-1965, is one of the better-known names in the world of photography. Best known for her Depression-era photojournalism, she took this photograph of U.S. 54, a route often taken by families seeking work in California. Even today its invitation to the proverbial American road trip remains relevant.
    Gelatin silver print, courtesy The Museum of Modern Art
  • Colorado Springs, Colorado, 1968As the American landscape continued to evolve with westward expansion and suburban sprawl, photographers like Robert Adams, born 1937, brought similar changes to the art of landscape photography.  With stark simplicity and deadpan presentation, Adams explored scenes of man's relationship with nature. (Gelatin silver print, courtesy The Museum of Modern Art...
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    Colorado Springs, Colorado, 1968As the American landscape continued to evolve with westward expansion and suburban sprawl, photographers like Robert Adams, born 1937, brought similar changes to the art of landscape photography. With stark simplicity and deadpan presentation, Adams explored scenes of man's relationship with nature. 2008 Robert Adams)
    Gelatin silver print, courtesy The Museum of Modern Art, (c
  • We Are Really Happy, 1972This slightly sardonic Bill Owens image represents what became something of a movement in the 1960s and '70s: tongue-in-cheek suburban portraiture.  2009 Bill Owens)
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    We Are Really Happy, 1972This slightly sardonic Bill Owens image represents what became something of a movement in the 1960s and '70s: tongue-in-cheek suburban portraiture. 2009 Bill Owens)
    Gelatin silver print, courtesy The Museum of Modern Art, (c
  • Zuma #29, 1978John Divola, too, has a great sense of humor. In a self-portrait series called "As Far as I Could Get," he sets the timer on his camera and runs away as fast as he can. He's interested in decay and remains, and often photographs collapsed structures and abandoned buildings, such as this image from the Zuma series, taken in California. (Dye transfer print, courtesy The Museu...
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    Zuma #29, 1978John Divola, too, has a great sense of humor. In a self-portrait series called "As Far as I Could Get," he sets the timer on his camera and runs away as fast as he can. He's interested in decay and remains, and often photographs collapsed structures and abandoned buildings, such as this image from the Zuma series, taken in California. 2009 John Divola)
    Dye transfer print, courtesy The Museum of Modern Art, (c
  • Untitled Film Still #43, 1979Cindy Sherman, born 1954, is a well-known name but a shape-shifting personality.  She has taken hundreds of self-portraits in hundreds of costumes, none of which are her true identity.  Here she takes on the role of a desert dweller, somewhere in the vast Western wilderness.  2009 Cindy Sherman)
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    Untitled Film Still #43, 1979Cindy Sherman, born 1954, is a well-known name but a shape-shifting personality. She has taken hundreds of self-portraits in hundreds of costumes, none of which are her true identity. Here she takes on the role of a desert dweller, somewhere in the vast Western wilderness. 2009 Cindy Sherman)
    Gelatin silver print, courtesy The Museum of Modern Art, (c
  • After a Flash Flood, Rancho Mirage, California, 1979Joel Sternfeld, born 1944, is another key pioneer of color photography.  Many of his images require a second look, often resulting in a chuckle.  2009 Joel Sternfeld)
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    After a Flash Flood, Rancho Mirage, California, 1979Joel Sternfeld, born 1944, is another key pioneer of color photography. Many of his images require a second look, often resulting in a chuckle. 2009 Joel Sternfeld)
    Chromogenic color print, courtesy The Museum of Modern Art, New York, (c
  • Untitled, from the series The Wild West, 1989David Levinthal, born 1939, pairs dolls and toys with dramatic lighting to recreate miniature scenarios, such as this cinematic Western scene.  2009 David Levinthal)
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    Untitled, from the series The Wild West, 1989David Levinthal, born 1939, pairs dolls and toys with dramatic lighting to recreate miniature scenarios, such as this cinematic Western scene. 2009 David Levinthal)
    Color instant print, courtesy The Museum of Modern Art, New York (c

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These images take us through the years; through the varying mythologies of the West; through technological innovations; through themes and artistic movements. From traditional landscapes to the open road, cowboys, littered wastelands and natural disasters, both photography and the American West have come of age together. This is not only an examination of American culture, but also a crash-course in American photography.

Many of the great pioneers — perhaps not of the frontier, but of the darkroom — are represented in this collection. With his monolithic camera, Darius Kinsey captures the promise of American bounty as frontier men chop down trees in 1860 Oregon. Dorothea Lange portrays the failed promise of Western expansion with her famous Depression-era black-and-whites. And the kings of color, Stephen Shore and Joel Sternfeld, photograph road signs, suburbanites and the products of industrialization. With dry humor these artists document the legacy of modernization that has left the West deserted yet again.

The exhibition will run March 29-June 8, 2009. Take a look at these images, and travel into the sunset.

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