The Addison Gallery of American Art on Phillips Academy’s Andover, Massachusetts campus is one of the most comprehensive of its kind in the world. Impressively, its collection includes nearly 22,000 objects that span a timeline that begins in the early 18th century and ends today. As if that weren’t enough, admission to the Addison is notoriously free.
My visit felt as expansive as its collection; meandering through the space felt less like a gallery visit than a trip back in time, to be sure. The purpose of my visit, however, was singular: to explore the gallery’s latest exhibition “Language, Sequence, Structure: Photographic Works by Lew Thomas, Donna-Lee Phillips, and Hal Fischer,” which will be on view through January 23. With the promise of these three artistic powerhouses on display, I had little doubt of returning home disappointed. This prediction was correct.
Thomas, Phillips and Fischer were Bay Area collaborators throughout the 1970s and ‘80s. Their partnership — creative through and through — sought to emblazon a “new photography” as a direct revolt against the medium’s purist Californian tradition. Overly focused on craftsmanship and emotion, so the trio claimed, the history of photography in California was generally seen by the public as a representation of the state’s unequivocal beauty; sweeping vistas and the vast expanse of its interior are notable themes that also exactly illustrate Thomas, Phillips and Fischer’s aversion. As longtime collaborators, the trio sought to stun and disrupt this tradition and thereby redefine the way Californian photography was viewed. Their resulting collaborative body of work was impressive; and, on full display at the Addison, serves as a celebration of theory and conceptualism as seen in photography.