Lords of the Lens - Page 8

8 great architectural photographers—mid-century California was their domain


Partridge, son of famed photographer Imogen Cunningham, grew up among the Bay Area's Bohemian artists and intellectuals. Roger Sturtevant and Dorothea Lange were friends of his mother.

Partridge (1917-2015), who also did portraits, art and nature photography, and more, cut a swaggering, individualistic path his whole life. His daughter recalled a cross-country family trip in a Cadillac limousine that Partridge spray-painted gold, camping all the way.

Partridge began working in Lange's darkroom as a child and started assisting her at age 16. He hitchhiked to Yosemite to work for photographer Ansel Adams, but thought Adams overly romanticized the landscape without focusing on depredations caused by visitors.

Partridge started shooting architecture in 1949, he told author Pierluigi Serraino, approaching architect Pietro Belluschi, whom he knew from his mother.

Partridge soon had a thriving practice, working for such Bay Area architects as John Carl Warnecke, Mario Ciampi, and William Corlett. He shot virtually all of architect Don Olsen's cool white-box houses.

Lords of the Lens
Rondal Partridge's shot of the Everett House (William Russell Everett, architect), from Orinda, 1951.

Images he shot of Warnecke's Mira Vista School in Richmond, with its series of saw-tooth roofs cascading down a hillside, with rock outcrops in the foreground, helped make that one of the most celebrated examples of school building in the early 1950s.

If a building's roof or posts and beams cast strong shadows, they became part of dramatic, abstract compositions.

Partridge's photos of Olsen's houses could be both coldly objective and expressionist at the same time, his wide-angle lens capturing the full façade of the Ruth House, with its white rectangles and the windows as dark voids, and a magnificent oak in front throwing its limbs into the sky.

Partridge sometimes included people in his shots, including architect Olsen himself, sometimes with clients.

As a sort of riposte to Ansel Adams, Partridge produced 'Pave It and Paint It Green,' a photograph plus a film showing what Yosemite really looked like, as swatches of the valley became parking lots in the mid-1960s. These were not architectural photos, but they were about place, and they were a personal and political statement.

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