John Upton: The Jungle Road
December 13, 2014 - January 17, 2015
Opening Reception: Saturday, December 13, 2014, 6-9pm
Smith Andersen North is pleased to present its first solo exhibition for photographer John Upton. The lush, large format color works hail from Upton’s time spent at his big island home in the community of Kapoho, nestled between dense tropical rain forest and the Kilauea Volcano. Kilauea is the most active of the five volcanos that form the island of Hawaii. Upton writes, “The intent of the work is to illustrate the transition from the intense botanical energy of the dense tropical rainforest, north of Hilo, to the energy generated from within the earth at Kilauea Volcano to the south.”
Through John Upton’s lens, these tropical and volcanic terrains become both wildly beautiful and totally consuming. Upton cites Stieglitz’ Equivalents as an influence, and the rainforest images that make up the majority of this body of work likewise deny the viewer a clear point of reference, subverting the classic landscape tradition that presents a rational, consumable world. Instead we lose our footing, confronted with dense walls of vivid color, competing for visual, physical and psychological space, without a clear pathway through. It is perhaps no accident that his intensely described landscapes resemble a sort of terrarium: Upton presents us here with a closed system—one in which we are directly implicated. While this somewhat alien world seems disconnected from our daily lives, a brilliant living metaphor for all that is remote, pristine and untouched, Upton brings it decisively into the present, infusing its playful visual poetry with a clear sense of urgency.
John Upton studied with Ansel Adams, Imogen Cunningham, Minor White and Edward Weston at the California School of Fine Arts (now the San Francisco Art Institute) in the early 1950s. Later he was a resident student of Minor White in Rochester, New York and took courses in the history of photography from Beaumont Newhall. He completed degrees in education and art history at California State University, Long Beach. In the 1960s he became Chair of the Photography Department at Orange Coast College, Costa Mesa, California. He has taught photography workshops, and was a visiting lecturer in the history of photography at colleges and universities in southern California. He has also lectured extensively on the history of photography in the United States, Canada, Japan and China. He has curated exhibitions for museums and galleries including Color as Form: A History of Color Photography exhibited in 1982 at the International Museum of Photography at the George Eastman House and at the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, D.C. He served as a panelist and consultant for the National Endowment for the Arts, and has written critical essays and reviews for numerous museum catalogs and photography publications, e.g. Aperture. In 1976 he coauthored with Barbara London the college textbook, Photography, now in its eleventh edition with 1.5 million copies in print. He had several one-person exhibitions and has been included in many group exhibitions. His work is in museum collections including the New York Metropolitan and M.I.T. In 1999 he retired from teaching and has been photographing in Japan and Hawaii. His exhibitions, Japanalia and the Jungle Road have been shown at three college art galleries during the last six years. Additional biographic information is listed in Who’s Who in American Art (16th edition).