Greatest Photographs of the American West

“National Geographic Greatest Photographs of the American West” opens at the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art on the University of Oregon on Saturday, September 28. The exhibition, on view through Sunday, December 31, includes photographs by Sam Abell, Ansel Adams, William Albert Allard, Edward Curtis, David Alan Harvey, William Henry Jackson, Sarah Leen, and Joel Sartore, among many others.

Nevada Cowboy Brian Morris, 1970. © William Albert Allard/National Geographic Stock

The exhibition opens with a free public reception on Friday, September 27, from 6 to 8 p.m.

Throughout its 125-year history, National Geographic has published photographs of the American West that both support and defy romantic notions of the land and its peoples. In this special exhibition, wide open spaces, spectacular rock formations, and the cowboy life are examined alongside struggles for limited natural resources, Native American cultural continuity, and new energy sources. Drawn from the significant holdings of the National Geographic Archive, “National Geographic Greatest Photographs of the American West” offers a broad understanding of a region that has long captivated photographers.

Organized into four sections, the exhibition focuses on a different aspect of the American West and its importance to our national identity. “Legends” portrays some of the cowboys, Native Americans and landscapes that define the vast area. “Encounters” showcases the interactions among the people of the West, visitors and wildlife. “Boundaries” features places where endless skies, boundless plains, and dramatic mountains meet natural and manmade limits. “Visions” explores the growth of the American West and where its story may go in the future.

Taken together, these images form a sort of cultural commons for popular understanding of the region. While its editorial coverage spans destinations across the globe, National Geographic consistently returns to the West and highlights the importance of the region to human imagination.

Accompanying the exhibition is the book “National Geographic Greatest Photographs of the American West: Capturing 125 Years of Majesty, Spirit and Adventure,” with a foreword by James McNutt, president and CEO of the National Museum of Wildlife Art of the United States.

“The role of photography in creating and perpetuating beliefs and understandings about the West has been continuous and evolving,” writes McNutt. “Beginning with adventurous pioneers in the field and never ceasing to the present day, photography accumulated an enormous record of change beyond the 100th meridian.”

The book was produced by Rich Clarkson, who also produced the 2011 “Track Town, USA,” a book and subsequent exhibition showing the history of the University of Oregon’s historic Hayward Field. Clarkson, the former director of photography and senior assistant editor of the National Geographic Society, was named by “American Photo” magazine as one of the fifty most influential individuals in American photography. He will present a talk at the JSMA on Sunday, October 6, at 2 p.m.

Photographer Sam Abell returns to the JSMA for a talk on Saturday, September 28, at 2 p.m. Abell and Torbin Ulrik Nissen premiered their exhibition “Amazonia” at the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art in 2010. Abell has worked with the National Geographic Society since 1970 and has photographed more than twenty articles on various cultural and wilderness subjects.

“The American West” was organized with the National Museum of Wildlife Art of the United States and Museums West; Presented by the Mays Family Foundation; Traveled by National Geographic. This exhibition is made possible at the JSMA by the Coeta and Donald Barker Special Exhibitions Endowment, The Harold & Arlene Schnitzer CARE Foundation, and JSMA members.

About the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art
The University of Oregon's Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art is a premier Pacific Northwest museum for exhibitions and collections of historic and contemporary art based in a major university setting. The mission of the museum is to enhance the University of Oregon’s academic mission and to further the appreciation and enjoyment of the visual arts for the general public. The JSMA features significant collections galleries devoted to art from China, Japan, Korea, America, Europe and elsewhere as well as changing special exhibition galleries. The JSMA is one of six museums in the state of Oregon—and the only university museum--accredited by the American Alliance of Museums.

The Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art is located on the University of Oregon campus at 1430 Johnson Lane. Museum hours are 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesdays, and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays through Sundays. Admission is $5 for adults and $3 for senior citizens. Free admission is given to ages 18 and under, JSMA members, college students with ID, and University of Oregon faculty, staff and students. For information, contact the JSMA, 541-346-3027.

About the University of Oregon
The University of Oregon is among the 108 institutions chosen from 4,633 U.S. universities for top-tier designation of "Very High Research Activity" in the 2010 Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education. The UO also is one of two Pacific Northwest members of the Association of American Universities.