Group f/64  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Group f/64 was a group of famous San Francisco photographers who espoused a common philosophy and photographic style. The group was created in 1932, and it is usually listed as including:

† Listed as founders

When the group was first started its seven founders did not consider all of these individuals to be "members". The 1932 exhibition announcement for the group at the M.H. de Young Memorial Museum states that "Group f.64 (Ansel Easton Adams, Imogen Cunningham, John Paul Edwards, Sonya Noskowiak, Henry Swift, Willard Van Dyke, Edward Weston) announces an exhibtion of photographs... From time to time various other photographers will be asked to display their work with Group f.64. Those invited for the first showing are: Preston Holder, Conseuella [sic] Kanaga, Alma Lavenson, Brett Weston.".

However, in 1934 the group posted a notice in Camera Craft magazine that said "The F:64 group includes in its membership such well known names as Edward Weston, Ansel Adams, Willard Van Dyke, John Paul Edwards, Imogene [sic] Cunningham, Consuela [sic] Kanaga and several others." (Heyman) From this notice it is fair to say that eventually all of the photographers listed above were considered participants in Group f/64, although the word "members" might not be appropriate. In an interview later in her life, Kanaga said "I was in that f/64 show with Edward Weston, Imogen Cunningham, Willard Van Dyke and Ansel Adams, but I wasn't in a group, nor did I belong to anything ever. I wasn't a belonger." (Mitchell)

There is some difference of opinion about how the group was named. Van Dyke recalled that it was he first suggested the name "US 256", which was then the commonly-used Uniform System designation for a very small aperture stop on a camera lens. According to Van Dyke, Adams thought the name would be confusing to the public, and he suggested "f/64", which was a corresponding aperture setting for the focal system that was gaining popularity. However, in an interview in 1975 Holder recalled that he and Van Dyke thought up the name during a ferry ride from Oakland to San Francisco. (Heyman) Regardless, the name became the now famous Group f/64.

The term Template:F/64 refers to the smallest aperture setting on a large format camera, which secures maximum depth of field, rendering a photograph evenly sharp from foreground to background. Such a small aperture sometimes implies a long exposure and therefore a selection of relatively slow moving or motionless subject matter, such as landscapes and still life, but in the typically bright California light this is less a factor in the subject matter chosen than the sheer size and clumsiness of the cameras, compared to the smaller cameras increasingly used in action and reportage photography in the 1930s.

This corresponds to the ideal of straight photography which the group espoused in response to the pictorialist methods that were still in fashion at the time in California (even though they had long since died away in New York).

Contemporary photographic convention denotes lens apertures with a slash, such as Template:F/22 or Template:F/64, but in its writings the group always used a dot or period instead (as in "f.64").

After their initial show in 1932, records indicate that some or all of the photographs from that show were exhibited in Los Angeles, Seattle, Portland, Oregon and Carmel. There are no detailed lists of the photos in those shows, so it has been impossible to say exactly which images were exhibited.

By 1934 the effects of the Great Depression were felt throughout California, and the Group members had a series of difficult discussions about the premises for art in those challenging economic times. The effects of the Depression, coupled with the departure of several members of the group from San Francisco (including Weston who moved to Santa Barbara to be with his son and Van Dyke who moved to New York) led to the disolution of Group f/64 by the end of 1935. Many of its members continued to photograph and are now know as some of the most influential artists of the 20th century.

Group f/64 published the following manifesto:

The name of this Group is derived from a diaphragm number of the photographic lens. It signifies to a large extent the qualities of clearness and definition of the photographic image which is an important element in the work of members of this Group.
The chief object of the Group is to present in frequent shows what it considers the best contemporary photography of the West; in addition to the showing of the work of its members, it will include prints from other photographers who evidence tendencies in their work similar to that of the Group.
Group f/64 is not pretending to cover the entire spectrum of photography or to indicate through its selection of members any deprecating opinion of the photographers who are not included in its shows. There are great number of serious workers in photography whose style and technique does not relate to the metier of the Group.
Group f/64 limits its members and invitational names to those workers who are striving to define photography as an art form by simple and direct presentation through purely photographic methods. The Group will show no work at any time that does not conform to its standards of pure photography. Pure photography is defined as possessing no qualities of technique, composition or idea, derivative of any other art form. The production of the "Pictorialist," on the other hand, indicates a devotion to principles of art which are directly related to painting and the graphic arts.
The members of Group f/64 believe that photography, as an art form, must develop along lines defined by the actualities and limitations of the photographic medium, and must always remain independent of ideological conventions of art and aesthetics that are reminiscent of a period and culture antedating the growth of the medium itself.
The Group will appreciate information regarding any serious work in photography that has escaped its attention, and is favorable towards establishing itself as a Forum of Modern Photography.

The most complete collections of prints from Group f/64 photographers are now housed at the Center for Creative Photography and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.




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