Photographer and environmental activist Bob Walker found in the beauty of the East Bay hills the stimulus for his tireless work to preserve the Bay Area s open space. Forty of Walker s photographs capturing this beauty are featured in the exhibition After the Storm: Bob Walker and the Art of Environmental Photography, on view from March 3 through June 24, 2001 at the Oakland Museum of California. The exhibition includes photographs from the museums Bob Walker Collection as well as original images by other landscape photographers whose art photography came to be used in support of environmental advocacy.
The exhibition places Walkers work in the context of the history of photography in the environmental movement, demonstrating its relationship to the work of such artist/activists as Ansel Adams, Phillip Hyde, Eliot Porter, the Mono Lake Committee and Robert Dawson. Several rephotographs, by Ellen Manchester and Robert Dawson, of sites photographed by Walker demonstrate the changes that have taken place in the Bay Area landscape over the past two decades. The exhibition also includes Walkers photographic equipment, correspondence, maps, field books, scripts, and recordings of talks he presented. A resource center provides brochures and contact information for a variety of Bay Area and Northern California conservation and open space organizations.
An accomplished landscape photographer and 15-year San Francisco resident, Walker (1952-1992) was a tireless open-space activist whose efforts helped protect large tracts of East Bay open space from development. Thanks largely to Walkers efforts, the Morgan Territory land bank in eastern Contra Costa County, which held 1,500 acres when Walker first encountered it, is now a regional park of 4,000 acres, while the state park that embraces Mount Diablo has grown to 20,000 unspoiled acres. It is now possible to hike from Morgan Territory to the summit of Mount Diablo completely on public land, the culmination of a dream Walker envisioned the first moment he set foot on Morgan Territory.
Like the landscape photographers who preceded him, Bob Walker was initially motivated by a feeling of connection to the environment. As he began to comprehend the damaging impact of urban sprawl on the Bay Area s wild lands, the photographs became more precise in their intent and power. Rather than simply drawing on his photographs for an occasional foray into public policy, as earlier landscape photographers had done, Walker used them in exhibitions and slide lectures to educate the public and to advocate specific land-use policies, turning them into powerful and effective tools for social and political change.
In his photography Walker used very slow film with a tripod and timer, a technique that resulted in landscapes with great depth of field. The photographs were usually shot in the late afternoon, taking advantage of the shadows and light created by the setting sun to illuminate the sensuous quality of the landscape. The San Francisco Bay Guardian said of his work, Walkers shots of landscapes conjure up the style of the old masters: ominous, cerulean clouds rolling over San Francisco Bay at sunset, gently sloping hills of velvety green, a hazy light cast across a lake that shimmers with the reds and golds of the dry season.
Walker earned his living as a freelance photographer specializing in the landscape and as a consultant to the East Bay Regional Park District. Before he died of AIDS at the age of 40, Walker was active in such organizations as the Bay Area Ridge Trail Council and the Greenbelt Alliance, was President of the Bay chapter of the Sierra Club, and was instrumental in the formation of the Gay and Lesbian Sierrans. In August 1992, the year he died, a ridge and new trail between Morgan Territory Regional Preserve and Mount Diablo State Park were named in his honor.
Walkers photographs have been widely exhibited in museums and galleries in the Bay Area and published in numerous state and regional publications. As a volunteer he gave hundreds of slide shows of his work on behalf of preservation campaigns, one of which is re-created in a video presentation in the exhibition.
At the conclusion of most of his slide shows and at the end of each of the hundreds of conservation hikes he guided in Contra Costa and Alameda Counties, Walker would insist that participants write postcards to government leaders in support of open space preservation. To honor these efforts, the exhibition concludes with a postcard station where current open space issues are presented and visitors encouraged to write postcards expressing their opinions on these topics.
After the Storm: Bob Walker and the Art of Environmental Photography is curated by Christopher Beaver, Judy Irving and Ellen Manchester of the Independent Documentary Group. IDG is a nonprofit organization committed to producing high-quality public-interest films, books, photo exhibits, plays and other media. To date, the group s work has focused on two areas: internationally, on peace, and regionally, on the environment. Project leaders for the exhibition at the Oakland Museum of California are Tom Steller, Chief Curator of Natural Sciences, and Carolyn Rissanen, Registrar of Natural Sciences at the museum.
The exhibition is cosponsored by the Oakland Museum of California, Gay and Lesbian Sierrans, and the East Bay Regional Park District, with additional funding from the Compton Foundation and the George Frederick Jewett Foundation.
Moss-covered trees, Sinbad Canyon,
Pleasanton Ridge, November 1985