Son of Imogen Cunningham. Apprentice to Ansel Adams. Protégé of Dorothea Lange. Who is Rondal Partridge, and what's he been up to for 85 years? Berkeley photographer Rondal Partridge's seven decades of work are celebrated in two retrospective exhibitions: Quizzical Eye: The Personal Photography of Rondal Partridge, on view at the Oakland Museum of California, and Quizzical Eye: The California Photography of Rondal Partridge, at the California Historical Society (CHS) in San Francisco. Both exhibitions run from January 18 to June 22, 2003.
The two institutions feature different aspects of Partridge's work: the California Historical Society will showcase documentary images depicting life in California during much of the 20th century, while the Oakland Museum of California will highlight Partridge's more creative, expressive side. The Oakland exhibition features approximately 100 framed photographs plus photo cubes, collages and mixed media works. It also includes a video room and a wall of self-portraits. The CHS will present about 100 images, panoramas and composite murals of California life since the mid-1930s, arranged to track Partridge's fiercely independent career and personal choices.
The exhibition titles are taken from the book Quizzical Eye: The Photography of Rondal Partridge, written by the photographer's daughter Elizabeth Partridge and UC Irvine art history professor Sally Stein (CHS Press & Heyday Books, January 2003). The book contains a foreword by Dan Dixon, Dorothea Lange's son, with approximately 100 black and white plates from 1934 to 2002.
Partridge has worked as a professional photographer for more than 60 years. His body of work encompasses the changing landscapes of Yosemite National Park and the San Francisco Bay Area; striking images from rodeos, junkyards and flea markets; architecture and urban scenes; and an assembly of still lifes, portraits and whimsical, arresting compositions.
Partridge began helping his mother in the darkroom and with her platinum printing when he was five. During the '30s, he worked as an assistant to Ansel Adams and Dorothea Lange, then moved on to work for the National Youth Administration. He documented America's youth during World War II, traveling through California to capture motorcyclists, hitchhikers and farm workers. His photojournalism work in later years was featured in the pages of Look, LIFE and Collier's magazines.
In the 1960s and '70s, Partridge combined straight black and white photography with experimental work in film, multimedia slide presentations (at the Oakland Museum, among other venues) and photographic assemblages. He still works every day in his Berkeley studio, producing still lifes and portraits using the venerable and laborious platinum process. A "photographer's photographer," he has been central to the photography scene of the Bay Area for many decades.
Two of Partridge's daughters contributed to the exhibition. Elizabeth co-curated the CHS exhibition with Sally Stein. Partridge's daughter Meg, a filmmaker who produced award-winning films on Dorothea Lange and Imogen Cunningham, has shot extensive footage of her father, which has been edited into a short film to be shown in both exhibitions.
Quizzical Eye: The Personal Photography of Rondal Partridge is curated by Drew Johnson, curator of art photography at the Oakland Museum of California, and made possible in part by the generous support of the Oakland Museum Women's Board.
Quizzical Eye: The California Photography of Rondal Partridge is sponsored in part by grants from The Candelaria Fund, The Louise M. Davies Foundation, and Grants for the Arts/San Francisco Hotel Tax Fund.
Typical Costume for Potato Fields, Kern Co., CA
Apr 9, 1940