The Archive as a River will be on view at the Foster Gallery, University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, from November 4-23, 2016. There will be an opening recption Thursday November 3rd from 6-7:30pm. On Friday November 4th, at 10:00am Andy Kraushaar from the Wisconsin Historical Society will be giving a talk on the exhibition. For more information about its presentation there, visit the Foster Gallery's web page or contact gallery director Jill Olm at 715-836-2538.
This exhibition celebrates the work of Paul Vanderbilt (1905-1992), an archivist, photographer, and visionary who sought new ways to understand the world through visual images. From 1942-1945, Vanderbilt worked with Roy Stryker at the Library of Congress to classify over 200,000 photographs of tenant farmers and farm workers commissioned by the Farm Security Administration. In 1954 he was hired by the Wisconsin Historical Society (WHS) to curate and organize a treasure trove of images and photographs that became known as the Iconographic Collections. Vanderbilt was given what he described as “exceptional liberty to apply unorthodox ‘philosophies’ of my own” to the structure of the WHS collections. Inspired by Stryker’s approach of organizing materials around themed collections, Vanderbilt created a unique visual archive that is renowned for its depth, subtlety, and flexibility.
Until his retirement in 1972, Vanderbilt also served as the field photographer for the WHS. He traveled across Wisconsin, focusing his lens on rural landscapes, architecture, and small town life. The photographs that resulted go far beyond documentation: Vanderbilt had a fine sense of composition and looked for narrative and meaning in his photography.
Vanderbilt pioneered new formats for presenting images from the Iconographic Collections, designed to make connections and inspire a deeper investigation into their underlying meaning. His beautiful, idiosyncratic thematic panels and pairings combine thoughtfully selected historic images with his own photographs and poetic texts. The Archive as a River will include large-scale reproductions of his thematic panels and pairings, a selection of Vanderbilt's own photographs of Wisconsin, and an array of artifacts and papers that reveal his innovative approach to organizing images.
"We are exploring potential depths of meaning, and these particular depths are not necessarily in the photographs. They are in life itself as recalled by the photographs. Photographs, in this sense, are used simply as a device for looking at the very life, ever changing, ever repeating, from which the photographs were made." Paul Vanderbilt, Between The Landscape and its Other (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993).
The Archive as a River: Paul Vanderbilt and Photography was organized in collaboration with the Wisconsin Historical Society, Division of Library-Archives. It was first exhibited at the James Watrous Gallery in the fall of 2014; in the spring of 2016, it traveled to the Wriston Art Gallery at Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin.
This exhibition is sponsored in part by the Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the State of Wisconsin and the National Endowment for the Arts.