The Golden Decade: - Photography at the California School of Fine Arts, 1945-1955
Gerald Ratto, Children of the Fillmore, No. 19, 1952, gelatin silver print, courtesy of Victoria Whyte Ball and Ken Ball.

Main Gallery

The Golden Decade:

Photography at the California School of Fine Arts, 1945-1955

January 25 - August 9, 2020

Curated by Jennifer O'Keeffe

The California School of Fine Arts (CSFA) in San Francisco (renamed the San Francisco Art Institute in 1961) was among a handful of institutions in the nation to offer an extensive program in photography and film during the period immediately following WWII. Established in 1945 by Ansel Adams, and taught by Minor White, the CSFA photography program raised the dialog around photographic practice to the level of a serious, focused study. Students were not only expected to be technically adept, but thoughtful and intentional about how they approached the world with a camera. The first decade of the program (1945-1955) gave rise to a unique group of photographers who went on to become accomplished artists and important contributors to visual culture, inspired by their teachers who were some of the most influential photographers of the day such as Edward Weston, Dorothea Lange, Imogen Cunningham, and Homer Page. Whether the approach was documentary, landscape-based, or purely formal, the faculty encouraged students to follow their visions with technical and conceptual rigor.

The Golden Decade focuses on a number of these students, several of whom are still living in the Bay Area such as David Johnson, Gerald Ratto, Stan Zrnich, John Upton,and Charles Wong. Ira Latour writes, “The years 1945 to 1955 marked a time of extreme creativity and change – not only at the school, but also in the wider milieu of the immediate postwar period. Both students and faculty participated in the aesthetic and social changes of their day, and their legacy has greatly impacted the history of photography.”