TUCSON, AZ.- Boxed Sets: Portfolios of the Seventies, open from March 11 through May 29, 2005 at the Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona, demonstrates the history and variety of the portfolio format in photography with a focus on the 1970s, when portfolios exploded on the art world scene.
The 1970s witnessed an unprecedented boom in photography, as museums, collectors, publishers, and scholars paid the medium serious attention for the first ti me. A reassess ment of photography’s expressive potential was provoked by major shifts in visual culture: the centrality of television, the death of picture magazines such as Life and Look, the mass-marketing of consu mer photographic equip ment, and increasingly esoteric trends in the art world. Now shown in museum exhibitions, taught in newly for med academic dep art ments, supported by govern ment grants, and sold in specialist galleries, photography assu med a prominent place within the fine- art market. Perhaps in compensation for this newco mer status, the photograph see med to require packaging, that suggested traditional notions of rarity and quality. The portfolio, more than any other format, endowed photographs with these attributes by presenting them in select groups of 10 to 15 images, printed in limited editions, accompanied by interpretive texts, and offered in handso me boxes.
Like other institutions just beginning to form photography collections in the mid-1970s, the Center for Creative Photography—which was founded in 1975—acquired many portfolios through purchase and gift. Boxed Sets features selected works and cases from 28 portfolios in the Center’s collection. These range from prewar prototypes to classic examples of the Seventies, when artists and publishers brought new energy and creativity to the portfolio format. From the careful craft and retrospective impulse of Ansel Adams to the experi mental technique and pop-culture references of Robert Heinecken, these photographic portfolios demonstrated great variety and creative energy. They appear today like a ti me capsule of tastes and trends in the period between 1929 and 1979.
Organized by CCP curator Britt Salvesen, the Center’s exhibition will allow visitors to view not only select works from these portfolios, but also to grasp the innovative ways in which they were arranged and packaged: their colophons and interpretive texts (often printed in sumptuous letterpress), display mounts, and handcrafted cases. The innovative gallery installation displays portfolios as artistic objects even as it tracks the craze for portfolios within the larger cultural pheno menon of a burgeoning market for photography.