To mark this 100 year anniversary, the Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco has created Jewel City marking, it said, the critical moment in the inauguration of San Francisco as the West Coast’s cultural heart and soul. I have seen hundreds of works by major artists from home and abroad, most of which were on display back in 1915. Not my taste at all!!
Much more exciting was an exhibition held at the de Young Legion of Honour in Golden Gate Park. So far I have been most impressed by the photographer Willard Worden (1868–1946) which is hardly a surprise, given all my photography lessons back in Melbourne. I really like what they were doing with photography at the time. It is easy to imagine a time where 90% of a person's photos didn't come out. Digital photography has changed things so much but back then they were experimenting with the very basics of light capture on silver. I suspect the reason there were rarely people in the landscape and architectural photos was because they moved too much. On a five-minute exposure, anything that moved was rendered invisible. One of Worden's photos of the Cliff House had another photographer (with camera on a tripod) and their subject (in bathers in the surf) in the middle ground. It was a beautiful moment.
The problem is that I had never heard of Willard Worden. Worden was from the East Coast and, so the gallery documents say, began creating photography while serving in the Spanish-American (1898) and Philippine-American Wars (1899–1902).
He must have learned to love the West Coast quickly. After being stationed in the Presidio in 1901 towards the end of his military career, Worden called Northern California home for the rest of his life. Since the Bay Area’s particular beauty was striking to everyone, I was not surprised when Worden’s landscapes were special. He must have roamed his adopted city, examining the natural beauty of the West Coast and the burgeoning city’s urban skyline.
San Francisco at Night – City Hall Illuminated, 1903.
Storm on the Ocean Beach, 1904.
all photo credits: de Young Museum
The Call, Examiner, Chronicle, Palace Hotel and Crocker buildings from Kearny Street
after Earthquake and Fire, 1906
By the time of the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco in 1915, Worden was experienced and talented enough to be nominated as an official photographer of the Fair; he even won a medal of honour for his own work that was exhibited in the Palace of Fine Arts. At the Panama Pacific World Fair itself, he had a wonderful time photographing the spectacular architectural and sculptural creations, during the day and then at night. One journalist said he, Worden, was the actual highlight of the Fair!
The de Young Museum exhibition displays 70 Worden photographs from the California Historical Society collections. These photographs were typical of Worden’s portfolio, which focused on Bay Area locations eg Chinatown, the Japanese Tea Garden and Golden Gate Park, and showed the devastating 1906 Earthquake.
Since you won’t be in San Francisco this year, I would buy the Portals of the Past catalogue of Worden’s work. Or see Worden’s photos on line in MMC News: “half-tone reproductions of photos, gelatine silver prints and soft-focus, hazy, sepia-toned, framed images that were most likely to end up on the interior walls of middle-class homes around the city. Worden also spent a lot of time producing hand-coloured photos, which almost appear to be paintings”.
The exhibition ends on the 14th February 2016.
Guest post, written by my clever son, AJ