Last week I had a “museum day” in the City. The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco are comprised of the de Young Museum and the Legion of Honor. They are true cultural landmarks in the city. I’ve been going to both on an off since I was a student at Cal. It seems like the de Young was not renovated that long ago, but turns out that it was actually completed in 2005! Located in Golden Gate Park, the de Young Museum features an extensive collection of American art, while the Legion of Honor boasts European masterpieces. My favorite are the gorgeous Rodin sculptures, both viewing and shooting.
Ansel Adams at the De Young
First we headed to the wonderful Ansel Adams exhibit at the De Young Museum. The museum writeup says:
Looking forward and back, this exhibition of more than 100 works by photographer and environmentalist Ansel Adams (1902 – 1984) places him in direct conversation with contemporary artists and the photographers who influenced him. Laid out in seven sections tracing Adams’s artistic development, the exhibition features some of his most-loved photographs, including images of Yosemite, San Francisco, and the American Southwest. Adams’s works are shown alongside prints by 19th-century landscape photographers, such as Carleton Watkins and Eadweard Muybridge, as well contemporary artists like Trevor Paglen, Will Wilson, and Catherine Opie. Their work engages anew with the sites and subjects that occupied Adams throughout his life — from national parks to the use and misuse of natural resources. Adams’s legacy continues to inspire and provoke, influencing how we envision the landscape and serving as an urgent call to preserve our environment.
Some of the Southwest and urban images were new to me. Funny how even with the non-parks material, an Adams print always looks like an Adams print. Such purity! Such technique! His spectrum of tonality was amazing. I’ve never seen such beautiful freeways intertwining in one L.A. image of that was part of the exhibit.
What I also really enjoyed was the contemporary images that functioned in a kind of dialogue with the Adams’ pieces. I had never heard of acclaimed Finnish-American photographer Arno Rafael Minkkinen, for example, but his approach to the classic Carlton Watkins viewpoint with his naked body was very interesting. It was the kind of image that draws people in because it is both familiar and very unique. “What is going on here?” is what you ask yourself.
I love to shoot inside museums because I think it is intriguing how people relate to art. It’s always a challenge for me, with all the straight angles, shadows, and often dim lighting. Not to mention trying to stay inconspicuous! It’s easy to say “shoot wide open” inside, but using a 1.8 or even 3.2 aperture makes it very tricky to get enough of the image in focus for my liking.
The Tudors at the Legion of Honor
After the de Young, we headed to the Legion of Honor (two-for-one on the same day) for the Tudors exhibit. I grew up with a seriously Royalist mother in Canada. We saw royal weddings in the middle of the night, and had large biographies of famous kings and queens throughout the house. Here is what the website says about the Tudor exhibit:
The Legion of Honor is the sole West Coast venue for the first major exhibition of Tudor portraiture, textiles, sculpture, silver, jewelry, and manuscripts in the United States. The exhibition follows the development of the arts in England from Henry VII’s seizure of the throne in 1485 to the death of his granddaughter Elizabeth I in 1603. The Tudor period in England saw the end of medieval feudalism, the rise of absolute monarchy, the English Renaissance, the Protestant Reformation, and the expansion of maritime trade. Art and luxury goods were used to legitimize the Tudor dynasty and reinforce shifting religious and foreign policies. Including iconic portraits of England’s most enduring monarchs and lavish works of art in a variety of media, the exhibition traces the evolution of courtly taste in Tudor England, culminating in the distinctly English Elizabethan style.
The exhibit was fascinating as it examined the influence that Henry VII, his son Henry VIII and Elizabeth I had on the arts in particular. The most fantastic exhibit in some ways was the huge tapestries in one of the upstairs galleries. Apparently, they were carried castle to castle with the Royals, a quick way to both warm up the stone interiors. and provide beautiful artwork all around them. The more expensive the tapestry, the closer it was to the ruler’s room.
Of course, you can’t go to this museum without seeing the amazing Rodin sculpture collection. The work of Auguste Rodin was the bridge between Neo-classical and modern sculpture and his fleshy, powerful figures are stunning.
Of course, outside the museum, one has to take in the gorgeous views. The Park’s golf course, the city skyline and the Golden Gate Bridge are all visible from the elevated vantage point of the museum.
In homage to the historical work I saw, I converted a few images to black & white. Honestly, I was so gobsmacked by all the art that it was not about trying to make a lot of images today. Trying to find a unique perspective on a Rodin and the Golden Gate bridge is always a challenge. Can you tell which images were shot shot with my Leica and which with my Nikon? 📷
Equipment used at the de young and legion of honor museums
I had not known how close I would be able to get to the action. Here’s the equipment I brought:
- Nikon D780 (smallest, lightest full-frame sensor body Nikon offers)
- Nikkor 16mm , f/2.8 “fisheye”
- Nikkor 20mm, f/1.8
- Leica TL2
- Sigma Contemporary 30mm, f/1.4
- Summicron 18mm, f/2
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All photos are copyright Chris Allan and cannot be used without my written permission. Please contact me for usage rights. Thank you for reading my blog post “One Day, Two Shows – Exploring new exhibits at the de Young and Legion of Honor Museums in San Francisco” To learn more about me and my work, please see my About page.