Talented photographers can take something ordinary, that you”ve seen many times in your life and still manage to capture it on paper in such a way that astounds you. For example, artist Bernard Descamps only works with trees and pools of water in his work featured in the Michigan Museum of Art. But although his photographs are nostalgic and familiar, they are at the same time new. When was the last time you looked up toward the sky in a forest and admired the way the sun shown through the tangled bare branches? Or looked into a murky pond to see what was on the other side?

Paul Wong
Courtesy of Michigan Museum of Art

Paul J. Woof, Joe Deal and Ernst Haas have created the same magic with their photos of the Rockefeller Center, California landscapes and color photographs, respectively. Their works, as well as those of Descamps and several others, are featured in the museum for the next couple weeks in the exhibit, “People and Places: The Baker Gift of 20th Century Photography.”

All of the photographs featured in the Works on Paper gallery, located in the basement of the museum, are in black and white, except for Ernst Haas” works, an artist who uses a vivid green to depict birds in front of a Kenyan backdrop. Haas”s “Lake Huntington, Kenya,” captures one instant of time when a flock of birds have just taken flight. His one other photograph also uses dye transfer print to show the contrast of pearly tones that can be found in nature among the black and the brown.

Most of the portraits in the exhibit are from a donation by Arnold Newman, from his series of photographs that he had taken of famous artists. The five portraits each depict an artist with his works in the background. The five portraits within this gallery were of Piet Mondrian, Max Ernst, Milton Avery, Georges Roualt and I.M. Pei. They are not the most flashy or exciting photographs, but they give insight into the person within it and how their lives are affected by their work, or vice versa.

The photo, “American Flag in Brick Wall,” by Robert Frank, also raises up emotions of familiarity with its image of men walking by a wall with an American flag painted on it, with cars driving next to them. Particularly in these times, the image of the American flag reminds us of another time when patriotic Americans rallied for their country, more than half a century ago. Frank also has a few other photographs within this gallery that also raise clearly American images.

This exhibit was given to the Michigan Museum of Art as a gift from The Morris and Beverly Baker Foundation in memory of Morris D. Baker, who was a graduate of the University of Michigan School of Architecture. Morris and Beverly Baker graduated from the University in 1952 and 1955 and collected many paintings and photographs, a portion of which they donated to the Museum. Besides the works of the photographers mentioned earlier, there are also photographs by Alfred Stieglitz, Aaron Siskind and Edward Steichen. This exhibit is at the University until Feb. 10.

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