Viewing Olmsted: Photographs by Robert Burley, Geoffrey James and Lee Friedlander 1996

Through a commission from the Canadian Centre for Architecture, Robert Burley was one of three contemporary photographers who spent six years interpreting the work of Frederick Law Olmsted (1822-1903), North America’s most important landscape architect. Viewing Olmsted: Photographs by Robert Burley, Lee Friedlander, and Geoffrey James brings together 155 photographs drawn from this extraordinary commission. Curated by David Harris, Associate Curator, CCA Photographs Collection, this exhibition offers visitors an opportunity to understand Olmsted’s achievement visually, by looking at an unprecedented range of photographic evidence.

By its size and complexity, the CCA Olmsted project is in the tradition of the great public photographic commissions, notably the 1851 Mission héliographique, which documented architecture throughout France, and the U.S. government’s Farm Security Administration (FSA) project which recorded 1930s America, or more recently the Mission photographique de la DATAR which interpreted the contemporary French landscape between 1984 and 1987. Its closest precedent among private commissions is the Court House project, 1974-76, conceived by Phyllis Lambert for the Joseph E. Seagram and Sons Corporation.

Frederick Law Olmsted played a key role in the development of America’s architectural culture. In collaboration with various partners, Olmsted shaped much of the public landscape of North America in the second half of the 19th century. He is no doubt best known for his urban parks, including Central Park in Manhattan and Prospect Park in Brooklyn. But his enormous output also included entire park systems (“The Emerald Necklace,” Boston); suburban communities (Druid Hills, Atlanta); university campuses (Stanford University, Palo Alto, California); private estates (“Biltmore,” the George Vanderbilt Estate, Asheville, North Carolina); cemeteries (Mountain View, Oakland, California); and conservation schemes (Yosemite Valley and Mariposa Big Tree Grove, California). His vision of how planned green spaces might function in the life of increasingly crowded cities would influence public space in North America for generations.

For additional information see: Canadian Centre for Architecture

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