Ralston Crawford (1906-1978): Photographs
FROM MARCH 13th THROUGH APRIL 21st, 2007, ZABRISKIE GALLERY EXHIBITS THE PHOTOGRAPHY OF RALSTON CRAWFORD. Crawford, best-known for his painting, captured with his camera similar subjects, forms and styles as with his paintbrush.
Ralston Crawford was a painter taking photographs in the 1940s, 50s and 60s, a time in which painting, as a medium, was swelling to its heroic zenith and fine art photography had yet to reach its full stride. This is one reason Crawford’s photographs have been so little shown – Crawford’s paintings and prints found their place where the photographs, seen possibly as mere aids for painting, did not. Though Crawford did paint from photographs at times, there is nothing secondary about them: these rich views of rock formations, of docks and urban life, exhibit the same masterly attention to form as his paintings. The photographs should not be viewed as partial or premature visions of the paintings, but rather as representations of Crawford’s desultory taste in style, medium and form.
Looking at the photographs, one becomes aware of the depth of Crawford’s aesthetic – he depicted the world in the buoyant, semi-abstract terms in which he saw it, full of flat, carefully balanced planes, stiffly-lined contours and the rough-edges of life. His photographs of torn paper evoke collage or perhaps the jagged edges of Clyfford Still. The mixture of symbol and space in his pictures of docks and boats recalls Stuart Davis. The formal and stylistic similarity of the paintings to the photos shows not that one supplants or supports the other, but that they are mutual realizations of Crawford’s deeply stylized, personal way of seeing.
Ralston Crawford was born September 25, 1906, in Saint Catharines, Ontario. Crawford found his way under the wing of Hugh Breckenridge at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, joining a list of pupils including Demuth, Marin, Sloan. He began taking photos in 1938 and continued into the 1970s before his death in 1978. Zabriskie Gallery has shown Crawford’s paintings and photography several times since 1971.