John Gutmann: Vintage Contact Prints

Vintage contact prints by John Gutmann will be on view at Fraenkel Gallery, 49 Geary Street, San Francisco, from September 12th through October 19th, 1991. Gutmann’s reputation has largely been built on prints made in the last few years from early negatives. The present exhibition is comprised of a group of vintage contact prints (i.e. 2 1/4 x 2 1/4″ prints, or 4 x 5″ prints, dating from the same period as the negative) that shed new light on Gutmann’s intentions.

The exhibition, comprised of approximately thirty prints, includes Gutmann icons (e.g. Elevator Garage, Chicago [1936], and The Artist Lives Dangerously [1938]) as well as previously unpublished and unexhibited images. In many cases the negatives for these images have been lost or destroyed. Prints in the exhibition date from 1934, the year after Gutmann left Germany and settled in San Francisco, to 1945 when the photographer worked in China.

Born in Germany and trained as a painter, Gutmann took up photography shortly before he arrived in the United States in 1933. With a European’s cultural background, and an eye trained in the German avant-garde aesthetic, Gutmann observed aspects of American culture that eluded that of Americans themselves. Though Edward Weston was the acknowledged master in California at the time Gutmann made these photographs, Gutmann’s work was not self-consciously aesthetic like Weston’s and other of the f/64 group; rather, it is ironic, ethnographic, and often ambiguous. Though full of social observation, it is motivated not by a desire to reform or change, but only to observe.

Gutmann has been the subject of a number of important museum exhibitions internationally, as well as a recipient of a 1977 Guggenheim fellowship.

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