Founded in 1932, Group ƒ/64 was an informal association of Bay Area photographers devoted to exhibiting and promoting a new direction in photography. The group was established as a challenge to Pictorialism, a popular movement on the West Coast, which favored painterly, hand-manipulated, soft-focus prints, often made on textured papers. This small association of innovators named their organization Group ƒ/64 after the large-format camera aperture, which produces the maximum depth of field so that everything from the immediate foreground to the distant background is in sharp focus, yielding crisp, graphic compositions. On November 15, 1932, the work of the original eleven members of Group ƒ/64—seven men and four women—was shown in a major exhibition at the M.H. de Young Memorial Museum in San Francisco. Photographic Revolutionaries of Group ƒ/64 features five of the most important members of the group: Ansel Adams, Imogen Cunningham, Willard Van Dyke, Brett Weston and Edward Weston.
True to modernist beliefs, the members of Group ƒ/64 argued that photography could only advance as an artform if its practitioners exploited the characteristics inherent in the camera’s mechanical nature. They adhered to a philosophy that photography is only valid when it is “straight,” or unaltered. Rather than enlargements, the group preferred contact prints, made on a sheet of glossy printing paper in direct contact with the negative. This technique gave the photographs rich clarity, subtle definition and maximum tonal range. They wrote a manifesto, stating that “pure photography is defined as possessing no qualities of technic [sic], composition or idea, derivative of any other art form.” Subject matter was less important than technique, and their photographs covered a wide range of themes, from landscapes and still lifes to portraits and nudes.
The group disbanded in 1935 when California, along with the rest of the nation, felt the effects of the Great Depression. Many of Group ƒ/64’s members continued to photograph and are now known as some of the most influential artists of the twentieth century. This exhibition features nearly fifty works, many of which were created after the group dissolved, remaining faithful to the manifesto.