PIRKLE JONES, Photographer
     Annotated Chronology

Director and Producer
GINA LEIBRECHT, Associate Editor


Photographer Pirkle Jones was born January 2, 1914, in Shreveport, Louisiana. Jones came to California in 1946 to study photography under the GI Bill at the California School of Fine Arts. He studied under Ansel Adams and Minor White.

For almost sixty years he has chronicled the people, politics, and landscape of Northern California—a promised land that has long held sway in the American cultural imagination. Within the confines of the locale, he has unearthed a universe of beauty and meaning. Operating primarily within a social-documentary framework, Jones has made simage characterized by sensitivity and acute observation.

With uncanny prescience, a sense of urgency, and a sympathetic eye, Jones plays the dual role of artist and witness, combining portraiture, landscapes, and architectural photographs to create documents of social structure and upheaval. Among his work is the notable 1956 photo series done in collaboration with Dorothea Lange photographing the destruction and dislocation of the Berryessa Valley in Napa County before it was flooded upon completion of the Monticello Dam. Published in 1960 as a single issue of Aperture magazine under the name Death of a Valley, this essay remains a powerful testament to the price of progress. Jones and Lange said, “The old life in this small valley was part of the California legend. We attempted to reveal this, and in addition, to lightly remind our viewers of the price of progress.”

In 1968, Pirkle Jones and Ruth-Marion Baruch photographed an important historical photographic essay on the Black Panther party that culminated in a book with the help of Kathleen Cleaver, entitled Black Panthers 1968 and a traveling exhibition in 2002.

Jones taught at the San Francisco Art Institute for twenty-eight years, retiring in 1997. He stopped taking photos in the late 1990s as well. In 2003, the Art Institute awarded him an honorary doctorate.

Pirkle Jones’s other achievements included the Photographic Excellence Award from the National Urban League and a National Endowment for the Arts Photography fellowship. He has exhibited at the International Museum of Photography, New York, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, The Art Institute of Chicago, Oakland Museum of California, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Smithsonian Institution, M. H. de Young Museum, and the Museum of Modern Art, New York. In 2001, the Santa Barbara Museum of Art mounted a retrospectivetion exhibiPirkle Jones: Sixty Years in Photography. The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art exhibited Pirkle Jones and the Changing California Landscape in 2003–2004. In 2008, the Napa Valley Museum remounted his Death of a Valley exhibition entitled Berryessa - the Last Year. Pirkle Jones died at the age of 95 in 2009 after the completion of the film Pirkle Jones: Seven Decades Photographed, From Pictorial California Landscapes to the Politics of the Black Panter Party by Jane Levy Reed.

Director, Executive Producer, Jane Levy Reed is active internationally as a filmmaker, curator, critic, and historian of photography. Reed has been producing and directing films since 1978. Her most recent film, "Pirkle Jones: Seven Decades Photographed – From Pictorial California to the Politics of the Black Panther Party," depicts Jones' long history of involvment that helped define the San Francisco Bay Areas dual traditions of elegant landscape imagery and biting social documentation. In 2006, Reed debuted her documentary on photographer John Guttman which was received with much acclaim and featured in many festivals both nationally and internationally. Reeds first film, "If Only For An Hour: American Popular Dance in the 40's," was released in 1978 and was sponsored by the Lincoln Center Dance Archive. She has worked on films with Shadow Light Productions since the early '80s. Among the exhibitions she has curated are David Bryne—Anima Mundi, San Francisco; Richard Barnes—Still Rooms and Excavations at San Francisco Camerawork; Josef Sudek—Poet of Prague at the Nikon Galleries in Tokyo and Osaka; L'esprit Metis, a traveling exhibition of eleven contemporary French documentary photographers; and David Ireland—Skellig, an exhibition, artist's book, and film at the Ansel Adams Center, San Francisco. In addition to organizing exhibitions, Reed has been a frequent editor of Camerawork: A Journal of Photographic Arts, and numerous other international photography journals.

Sandra S. Phillips was appointed curator of photography at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) in August 1987. A photographic historian and former curator of the Vassar College Art Gallery in Poughkeepsie, New York, Phillips succeeded Van Deren Coke as head of one of the country’s most active departments of photography. In acknowledgment of her considerable contributions to the Museum, Phillips was promoted to senior curator of photography in 1999.

Under her direction, the Department of Photography presented such acclaimed exhibitions as a 1989 retrospective of the eminent San Francisco photographer John Gutmann, An Uncertain Grace: The Photographs of Sebastião Salgado (1990), Florence Henri: Artist-Photographer of the Avant-Garde (1990), Helen Levitt (1991)and Wright Morris: Origin of a Species (1992).

Among her more recent exhibitions such as Ansel Adams at 100 (2001), commemorates the 100th anniversary of amazing works by Ansel Adams.  Philips worked closely with The Estate of Diane Arbus for the Diane Arbus: Revelations (2003) exhibition that presented a complete collection of significant photographs, vintage prints, and writings of the artist. Other recent exhibitions curated by Phillips include John Szarkowski: Photographs (2005) and Robert Adams: Turning Back (2005). She is currently working on an exhibition exploring surveillance and voyeurism entitled Exposed.

Phillips received her Bachelor of Arts degree in art and art history from Bard College in 1967 and her master’s degree from Bryn Mawr College in 1969. She earned her doctorate in art history in 1985 from City University of New York, where she specialized in the history of photography and American and European art from 1849 to 1940.

James Reed graduated from University of California, Santa Cruz, in 2002 in film and anthropology and has been working as a documentary filmmaker, cinematographer, and editor. Some of his own films include “Helmet Optional,” a documentary on the fringe San Francisco bike messengers; “70%,” a ten-minute short on the use and misuse of water worldwide; and, currently, a documentary on renowned French graffiti artist and painter, "Psychose", filmed in France. Among the films he has shot and edited are “Xavier Viramontes: Printmaker A LIFE IN PRINT” a feature-film documentary on the Mexican printmaker and member of San Francisco Mission Mural Artist, and “Casa De La Raza.” It was featured at the M.H. de Young Museum in conjunction with “ Chicano Visions: The Cheech Marin Collection” exhibition and in 2008 it aired on PBS. He has also worked on several films for Shadowlight Production, including “Seven Visions.” He was the cinematographer and editor for “Pirkle Jones: Seven Decades Photographed.” Recently he edited a film on Andy Golsworthy for Haines Gallery, San Francisco, entitled Spire.

Editor Nathaniel Dorsky has been making and exhibiting films within the avant-garde arena since 1964. In recent years, his films have shown at numerous museums and festivals in the United States and Europe, including the Louvre, Paris; the Whitney Biennial, New York; the Pacific Film Archive, Berkeley; and a one-person show at the Walter Reade Theater of Lincoln Center, New York. In 2001, The Museum of Modern Art in New York dedicated a weekend to a twelve-film retrospective of his work. Dorsky lives in San Francisco and makes his livelihood as an editing consultant and film editor.

Gina Leibrecht has been working in film since she received her B.A. in telecommunications and film from the University of Oregon in 1989. In 1998, she began collaborating with the acclaimed documentary filmmaker Les Blank on several projects, including All In This Tea, which she co-produced, co-directed and edited, and which had its World Premiere at the Berlinale in 2007. Among her other edited films are Native Glory, a film Blank directed about the whimsical art collector Rene di Rosa and The Maestro Rides Again, for Blank’s DVD The Maestro: King of the Cowboy Artists. Gina also produced and directed an eleven-minute piece on Rene di Rosa for San Francisco’s KQED. She edited Frank Green’s Counting Sheep, about the endangered Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep, which aired on KQED’s Truly California series and won a Northern California Emmy Award for Best Documentary in 2006. She most recently completed editing Kevin White’s A Land Between Rivers, a one-hour documentary about the history of California’s Central Valley for PBS, which won a CINE Golden Eagle Award for Excellence in Film and Television in 2007.

Pirkle laughing, garden, Mill Valley, 2001, Photo by Bruce Weber, Walnut Grove sign at dusk, from Walnut Grove: Portrait of A Town, 1961; Business district,
#1,from Walnut Grove: Portrait of A Town, 1961; Baths, #32, from Walnut Grove: Portrait of A Town, 1961; Man resting in shade of truck,
from Walnut Grove: Portrait of A Town, 1961; Bait Shop, from Walnut Grove: Portrait of A Town, 1961; Man resting in shade of truck, from Walnut Grove: Portrait of A Town, 1961; Bracero's outside Lee's Market, from Walnut Grove: Portrait of A Town, 1961; Men on the street, from Walnut Grove: Portrait of A Town, 1961; Houses on street, from Walnut Grove: Portrait of A Town, 1961; Man lifting box of tomatoes, from Walnut Grove: Portrait of A Town, 1961

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