When the Santa Barbara Museum of Art’s latest photography exhibition opened to the public, its content came full circle. The show-Ten: Gifts of SBMA PhotoFutures-celebrates the contribution and support from a dedicated group of photography enthusiasts. During the past 10 years, their organization, PhotoFutures, has assisted SBMA in purchasing pieces for its permanent collection, and Curator of Photography Karen Sinsheimer thought such an anniversary provided the perfect opportunity to share their contribution with the public at large.
“Every year we have a buying spree where I bring in a number of things I want to acquire for the collection, and PhotoFutures then gets to spend their money to help me purchase some of those works,” explained Sinsheimer. “In many cases, individuals will step forward to help fund other pieces that the group can’t quite afford. Not only has it been an invaluable undertaking for the museum’s collection, it has also been a very exciting one.”
Since its foundation in 1998 by William Brian Little and Mrs. Kingman Douglass, PhotoFutures has been supporting acquisitions that have helped shape the museum’s photographic collection. The current exhibition offers an insight into the results, and highlights favored subject areas, including the western Pacific Rim and the boundless frontier of art and science, which help this collection stand alone.
“Here we sit just 90 miles from the Getty, so there’s no point-nor is there any possibility-of my trying to duplicate what they do,” said Sinsheimer. “They have vast, in-depth holdings over the entire history of photography. I can’t do that. But what I can do is establish areas where we can really build some unique holdings. What we are really trying to do is to create a collection that will be unique and that will have its own particular presence-something that is distinguished from other collections.”
As an organization, PhotoFutures is more than just a means of acquiring new work for SBMA; it also offers a dynamic forum for ongoing dialogue. The collective typically meets each month, and Sinsheimer introduces members to guest speakers including curators, dealers, publishers, and artists. Members are offered the rare opportunity to become familiar with some of photography’s leading figures in an informal setting.
“It’s a small group, which helps makes it an intimate experience,” explained PhotoFutures supporter, collector, and photographer Keith Fishman. “It really allows the members to get up close and personal with the people who are playing a significant role in shaping photography as an art form. And it’s an opportunity to put people who have an appetite for this together, regardless of whether they are beginning or seasoned collectors.”
This kind of enthusiasm has furthered the cause of fine art photography within the community and has introduced more than 100 new photographs to the museum’s collection. But given that many of the organization’s members are avid collectors themselves, what directs a privately purchased work into SBMA’s collection, rather than a personal one?
“In a lot of cases, it is synergistic,” Sinsheimer responded. “Not only do I expose these people to artists and opportunities that they might not otherwise know about, but they also get access to people that they might not otherwise have the opportunity to meet. And, conversely, I think people take a sense of pride from realizing that they are helping build the public collection of the museum that will be taken care of in perpetuity, and that they are contributing to that legacy.”
A visit to Ten: Gifts of SBMA PhotoFutures reveals the depth of that legacy. From one of the first PhotoFutures acquisitions-David Maisel’s beautiful abstraction of a dry lake bed in the Owens Valley-to Jackie Nickerson’s empowered portrait of a South African grandmother, one of the most recent, these 10 years of contributions lead the viewer on a wondrous photographic journey.
“And that’s the beauty of photography,” affirmed Fishman. “It doesn’t matter which side of the camera you are on; it is still the same beautiful, voyeuristic experience we all share.”
Ten: Gifts of SBMA PhotoFutures is on display at SBMA now through December 21. For more information, call 963-4364 or visit sbma.net.