Palo Alto Weekly

Arts & Entertainment - October 8, 2010

Through a collector's lens

Four photography collectors show their prized possessions

by Rebecca Wallace

Stefan Kirkeby bought his first photograph for $15 when he was in middle school. Art runs in the family: His mother is Paula Kirkeby, owner of the Palo Alto fine-arts press Smith Andersen Editions, and she brought him to that first exhibition.

Today Kirkeby is himself a photographer, and director of Smith Andersen North in Marin County. He also hasn't stopped collecting. Many of his prized possessions are now showcased with those of three other Bay Area art professionals in a Palo Alto Art Center show called "In Focus: Collecting Photography."

The collections offer a diverse slice of the photographic arts, and a broad look at silver prints — what an exhibit press release calls "the fast-disappearing genre of black-and-white film photography."

By the show's entrance are very human pieces of the past assembled by San Francisco gallery owner Jack Fischer. Several quirky found photos have been scribbled on by their subjects. One is a 1906 postcard of a solemn, bug-eyed man who wrote in part: "Am feeling a little better than I look."

The 1935 Bernice Abbott photo "Blossom Restaurant" captures a restaurant sign that promises, among other things, three large pork chops for 30 cents. (If it was a slow week, one could penny-pinch with the "pig's feet and kraut" for a dime.)

Curator/filmmaker Jane Levy Reed has a collection rich with architectural images. One of the most striking is Abelardo Morell's 1999 "Camera Obscura image of Boston's Old Customhouse in Hotel Room." The artist turned a room into a pinhole camera, with a Boston skyline projected on one wall. The blocky hotel furniture is silhouetted in front of the skyline.

Photographer Linda Connor's collection includes the pioneering female photographer Anna Watkins. Other images include the graceful 2005 David Goldes photo "Five Spoons," with the cutlery just floating in water, barely breaking the surface.

As for Stefan Kirkeby, his images of choice often focus on individual people, like a girl looking out the window of the Orient Express in a 1952 photo by Ira LaTour.

Leo Holub, the late founder of Stanford University's photography department, is also well-represented in the collection. A lively spirit is evident in Holub's 1963 "Little Girl with Pigeons, Maiden Lane, San Francisco," in which a delighted child chases a crowd of birds, setting them flying.

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