As the sun began to set, the final touches were being made to the room. Bottles of wine had were lined up on one of the tables to welcome the guests who enjoyed their drinks while perusing the exhibition they came to see. Several dozen photographs hung silently on the walls, some the size of books, others the size of large television screens. These pieces would soon be contrasted by a noisy crowd of photography lovers, whose mutual appreciation for the camera would bring them all to Sonoma State’s University Art Gallery on this particular Thursday.
“Focus on Photography: Selections from the Gallus Sweet Collection” attracted quite a turnout. Most of the crowd was constituted by swaths of expensively dressed older folks, but, a decent amount of Sonoma State students were also in attendance. By taking one look at the list of photographers being displayed, one could easily piece together why so many. Included in this list were a number of heavy-hitting names from the photography world, such as Ansel Adams, Robert Mapplethorpe, and Tina Modotti.
All of these photos came from the collection of Fay Gallus and Dr. Richard Sweet, who both reside in Sonoma County. Dr. Sweet, who first began collecting photographs over forty years ago, believes that photography “captures the importance of history.” Dr. Sweet went on to say that photographs “can capture a moment and the emotions associated with them very realistically.”
Shannon Benine, a Sonoma State assistant professor of photography, was very impressed with the exhibition. Benine said it was “one of the most comprehensive collections of historical and contemporary photographers that I’ve seen in a long time,” and that for photography majors, “The opportunity to stand in front of Ansel Adams really teaches you something that looking at a website just can’t.”
The exhibit covered a vast range of human emotions. The Santa Fe, by Richard Misrach, captured a lonely train making its way across a desolate desert horizon. Meanwhile, Sebastio Salgado’s Serra Pelada, Brazil (Cast of Thousands) gave a view of a lively Brazilian quarry, populated by hordes of workers, who seemed to cover the carved stone walls like ants.
Perhaps the largest photograph in the room was Lynn Davis’ Wave Rock, Hyden, Western Australia. This photo depicted an enormous wall of rock, which bore an eerie resemblance to a humungous tidal wave, what with its smoothed edges and wavy patterns. The size of the photograph truly helps to convey the size of its subject material.
When people were asked to comment on the photographs, “phenomenal” was a common word used. Aryan Chapell, a Sonoma State alumni and photographer, called the exhibit “a treat” and added that “A great photo can be taken anytime of day or night or anywhere.”
He also added that photography was special because it is such “an immediate medium.” Sonoma State student Victoria Mihatovic shared this sentiment, assuring that photography “can document a single moment in time and place,” and that photographs “preserve memory.”
A commonly spread rumor caused many people to believe that the exhibit would be featuring the works of Sonoma State students. “You could put Picasso up here, and people will ask about the student who made it,” said Carla Stone, the University Art Gallery’s exhibition coordinator.
Anyone who arrived expecting student photography was surely surprised when they came face to face with the works of masters. These will be open to the public at the University Art Gallery until October 25. Until that date, Sonoma State will be the home of this collection.