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"View from Above: The Photographs of Bradford Washburn"
1999-11-24 until 2000-04-30
Museum of Fine Art
Boston, MA, USA United States of America

Mountaineer, explorer, cartographer, and for forty years director of Boston’s Museum of Science, Bradford Washburn is also a brilliant aerial photographer who has been making “views from above” of high mountain peaks and glaciers since 1934. Washburn, born in 1910, began climbing in the French Alps when he was sixteen years old. As climber and mapmaker, he is particularly identified with Mount McKinley and the Alaska Range, but he has also mapped with his camera the Grand Canyon.

While Washburn’s photographs were made primarily for documentary purposes, they can also be appreciated for their surprising, often dizzying spaces; for the intricate interplay of light and shadow over pristine blankets of snow; and for their revelation of natural textures and patterns of startlingly abstract beauty. Not all of Washburn’s photography is airborne. The many Alaskan expedition albums he has put together since the 1930s contain carefully sequenced picture essays that detail the organization of supplies or camp conditions. The albums also contain portraits of expedition members, including his wife, Barbara, who has been a key participant in many of the major climbs and mapping expeditions. The some eighty-five prints in the exhibition, selected from literally thousands of negatives made from the 1930s to the 1990s, are a generous and welcome gift to the Museum from Bradford and Barbara Washburn. The exhibition is complemented by a newly

published book on Washburn’s mountain photography which is available in the Museum Bookstore & Shop.

No matter how strange and unfamiliar geologically or how abstractly patterned Washburn’s aerial images may be, one thing they are not is flat. They are bold relief images captured in extreme, raking light—the earth becomes a living relief map sculpted by the light with magical precision.

Perhaps the central visual message of Washburn’s aerial photographs is the revelation of how the earth works. This is at once good science and expressive art. All the earth’s secrets—its geological movements, its upheavals and erosions, the slow march and retreat of glaciers, the essential interconnectedness of the earth’s bones, veins, and muscles—are laid out before us with exemplary clarity.

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