Dr. Emily Bills’ photography exhibition After Modernism: Through the Lens of Wayne Thom, recently wrapped at the Pacific Asia Museum in Pasadena. The exhibition — the first of its kind at the museum — is the culmination of five years of research on Thom’s work, which was also featured in Dr. Bills’ book, Wayne Thom, Photographing the Late Modern (Monacelli, 2020 — available wherever books are sold).
One of the leading architectural photographers of our time, Wayne Thom photographed more than 2,600 projects across the Western United States, Hawaii, Bali, Fiji, and Singapore. Over the course of his 50-year career, which stretched from 1968–2015, Thom was especially prolific in Southern California, where he based his practice, and where he became the preferred photographer for the region’s leading firms.
The photographs in this exhibition were sourced from the Wayne Thom Photography Archive at the University of Southern California Libraries. In addition to the more than 75 freshly minted prints and archival materials illustrating the gravitas of Thom’s work on display, USC PAM and USC Libraries collaborated to develop a fully interactive archive station featured in this exhibition. This station allowed visitors to visually peruse the archive and learn more about 50 iconic projects that illuminate Thom’s long and storied career. Two videos developed for the exhibition gave visitors an opportunity to hear Thom recount his effort to enter the Southern California market at a time when prominent photographers Julius Shulman and Marvin Rand dominated the scene. He also detailed his approach to photographing Late Modern buildings whose inventive forms and materials required a fresh eye, as evidenced in his strategy to capture the CNA building in downtown Los Angeles, the first all-over mirror glass skin building constructed in the world.
The exhibition ran from October 14, 2022–January 22, 2023.
“I think the close collaboration between USC Libraries and PAM really made this exhibition, as it brought the academic, archival side of the work together with the visual side.
“It was important to me to represent Wayne’s practice and the art of architectural photography, but I also wanted to situate the architecture in an historical time period. In terms of architectural history, Wayne is to Late Modernism what Julius Shulman is to Midcentury Modernism. He entered the scene in 1968, when architects educated in modernist tenets began to push those teachings in new, sometimes extreme directions.
“All of this happened when substantial changes were taking place in American cities generally, and California specifically. Downtown L.A., for example, had just suffered through urban clearance and in the 1970s began to transform into a high-rise center. In Orange County, real estate development altered the landscape, particularly with the increase in high-tech campuses. Educational opportunities also expanded, and university campus construction accelerated to meet growing enrollment. Wayne’s photographs are witness to the ways architectural firms meet this building boom, so they are important documents of urban history.”
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Last Updated on February 8, 2023.