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Curator(s): Jim Pinckney, Naomi Reddert and John Seidel

Two Trees. © Ron James. All Rights Reserved.
When Ron James arrived in Monterey in 1968 from Michigan, he was already a veteran with twenty years of photographic experience. He took to photography early in his youth, and was especially inspired by the book of Edward Steichen’s landmark Museum of Modern Art exhibition, The Family of Man. These images, from all across the globe, demonstrated the possibilities of photography for telling stories, and for documenting both the diversity and the commonality of the human experience. James built his own darkroom in a bedroom closet and went on to win honors for his photographs. After a year of travelling, solo shows at the Leitz Gallery in New York and at the University of Miami, the cultural revolution of the 1960s lured him west for good.

Soon after his arrival James began teaching at Monterey Peninsula College, and for the next twenty years, together with Henry Gilpin, he instructed and inspired a new generation of Monterey Bay area photographers. His tenure spanned an extraordinary era of experimentation and self- expression in the arts, and a huge growth of interest in the medium of photography. James was an enthusiastic mentor beloved by his students, and he befriended and encouraged many in Monterey’s vibrant photography community.

Feeling the influences of the environment that had fostered many eminent photographers, most notably Edward Weston, Brett Weston, Ansel Adams and Wynn Bullock, James’ own focus moved from city life and street photography to the nature themes more commonly addressed on the California coast. The extraordinary landforms that abound in Monterey’s valleys and coastlines, as well as the close-knit community, likely led him to venture into what was for him new territory. Ultimately James was drawn to photographing at Point Lobos State Reserve where, despite it being the site of many of Edward Weston’s most legendary images, he re-envisioned the iconic location for himself. Photographing with a Pentax 6 x 7 single lens reflex camera, he made many striking close-ups of waves and shore break, and rock and sand formations. With a practiced eye and creative ingenuity, he found new ways of expressing the familiar. One standout image of a rock pattern seems a perfectly circular “moon” comprised of celestial dust, floating in a mysterious interstellar space of blackness above and a band of stars below. In a 1976 image, his meticulous exposure features a rock that mimics a crumpled piece of paper. Isolated in close up, with no apparent scale or proportion, it might be a crystalline amoeba, a fallen leaf, or a mountain on Mars.

It was in this period that James began another significant project. Inspired by new ideas of time and space fostered by writings of Minor White and Monterey’s Wynn Bullock and by his own interest in quantum physics, James discovered innovative techniques that allowed him to express a sense of movement and the passage (or cessation) of time. His usual subjects were trees, but he also photo- graphed other landscape features in this way. In the 1975 photograph Two Trees, the subjects are grounded in a vortex of spiraling motion. James’ images demonstrate that movement can be implied while still maintaining a central focus and without compromising the integrity of the subject. In Carmel Valley Field, 1976, the hills and ground no longer appear strictly earthbound, but become almost ethereal.

It is a valuable exercise to consider Ron James’ body of work in the context of 1970s and 80s Monterey. Among an impressive group of fine art photographers living and working in the area during this period—Brett and Cole Weston, Morley Baer, Henry Gilpin, Richard Garrod, Rod Dresser, Martha Casanave, Brad Cole, Jerry Takigawa, among numerous others—James’ photographs remain groundbreaking. They stand out not only because of their exceptional creativity and innovation, but also because they are beautifully realized prints. These are significant qualities remarkable in any era or place.

— Helaine Glick
Assistant Curator, Monterey Museum of Art


About the Curator(s)

Thumbnail for Light Years: A Retrospective of the Photography of Ron James class=

Light Years: A Retrospective of the Photography of Ron James

This soft-cover, perfect bound catalog features images from the November 16 – January 4, 2014 exhibition. Designed for CPA by Takigawa Design, the book also includes statements from the the curators. It may be purchased at the CPA Gallery for $20.00, and may also be previewed and purchased from our online publisher: MagCloud.

Order from MagCloud