Current Exhibition:

All About the Light
A selection of fine art photographs the exemplify extraordinary use of light.

September 3 - November 28, 2015

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Next Exhibition:
Vernacular Vixens
Found Images of Women from the Robert E. Jackson Collection

OPENS Dec. 3, 2015

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Hours: Wed - Sat 11–5:30 pm; Tues by appointment
First Thursdays of the month open until 7:30pm

HOLIDAY HOURS: closed Nov. 26-27 (open Nov. 28); closed Dec. 25-Jan. 1

Contact:   415-781-1122   •
49 Geary Street • Suite 410 • San Francisco, CA 94108

View photographs from our inventory by clicking on these galleries:

All About the Light
A selection of fine art photographs the exhibit extraordinary use of light

September 3 - November 28, 2015

Robert Tat Gallery presents a group exhibition of photographs that exemplify extraordinary use of light. All the works are drawn from the Gallery’s collection. Photographers include: Ruth Bernhard, Fan Ho, Barbara Traub, Michael Kenna, Imogen Cunningham, George Platt Lynes, George Hoxie, Neil Folberg, Charles Harbutt, Fred Archer, photographer unknown, and others.

The word photography comes from the Greek roots photos, meaning “light” and graphé meaning “drawing.” Thus, photography literally means drawing with light. It has been said that a good photographer is one who finds the light. To be sure, there is no photograph that is not about light--it is the material, the paint and brush if you will, with which a photograph is made.

The present exhibition showcases examples that show a particular attention to the light, and by doing so also reveal the dark. Whether it is the rim lighting around a woman’s face revealing only a hint of who she is, or the light that rakes across a barren desert landscape revealing the intensity and harshness of the environment, the light is as much a character here as the subject. And yet, even though it is a major quality of these photographs, light is inherently un-photographable. We cannot “see” light as an object; we can only see its effect upon other objects.

Of particular note is a whole wall of photograms. The photogram is a work that cannot be made by any other means than the photographic process. These camera-less photographs are created by placing objects directly on the photographic paper and exposing them to light. So, the photogram is literally “all about the light.” The method was popular among Surrealists (including Man Ray and others), as the concept of placing objects on paper seemed an extension of Andre Breton’s use of found objects as material for art. By definition, a photogram is a one of a kind, unique photograph, and since there is no negative used in making the print the image cannot be replicated.

The ROBERT TAT GALLERY specializes in 20th century European and American photographs. The eclectic collection of vintage and later prints emphasizes Photographic Modernism, but also includes earlier and later photographs. The gallery shows works by 20th century master photographers, lesser-known mid-century photographers, the Pictorialists, select contemporary artists, as well as unique vernacular and anonymous photographs and selected 19th century works. We also maintain a good selection of vintage historical photographs of San Francisco and Califonia.

ROBERT TAT GALLERY is located in San Francisco's premiere gallery building at 49 Geary Street, Suite 410, near Union Square. The Gallery is open Wednesday - Saturday 11:00 AM - 5:30 PM; Tuesday by appointment. For further information, please call 415-781-1122.

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Vernacular Vixens
Found Images of Women from the Robert E. Jackson Collection

December 3, 2015 - February 6, 2016

Saturday, December 5, 2015    3-5 PM
Presentation on The Vernacular Photograph as Art and exhibition walk-through with Robert Jackson

Robert Tat Gallery is pleased to present selections from the collection of Robert E. Jackson. The exhibition "Vernacular Vixens: Found Photographs of Women" is drawn from Jackson's collection of over 11,000 found and vernacular images, and features approximately 35 photographs of women and the female form. The show will include images from various areas within vernacular photography, including press photos, double exposures, snapshot portraits, negatives printed as positives, color photographs and larger anonymous images.

Robert Jackson is arguably one of the most important active collectors of the vernacular photograph. He has been an avid proponent of the snapshot as art, and selections from his collection have been featured in numerous museum and fine art gallery exhibitions.

Most notably in the fall of 2007, Jackson's collection formed the basis of the exhibition and catalogue "The Art of the American Snapshot: 1888-1978" organized by The National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. This was the largest exhibition to date of vernacular photography in a major art museum. In June of 2013, Pace/MacGill Gallery in New York City presented the exhibition "Snap Noir: Snapshot Stories" based on photo groupings curated from his collection.

Several photographs from The National Gallery exhibition are included in "Vernacular Vixens" and will be available for purchase for the first time in a gallery setting. These pieces are in their original exhibition frames and carry a provenance label on the back of the frame certifying the piece was exhibited at the museum.

Collecting snapshots and other vernacular images as aesthetic objects is really a process of connoisseurship. Since these photographs were not made with the intention of being art, we might better call them "accidental art". Their artistic merit is established by the collector's eye. This involves a process of selection, of looking through sometimes thousands of photographs to find one that meets the collector's aesthetic.

According to Jackson "These snapshots now exist in my collection without the weight of any of the narrative import that accompanied the taking of the photo. I am interested in the formal aesthetic qualities of the photo, and have no interest in trying to place when and where it was taken or what the photo meant to express or record."

Robert E. Jackson has collected snapshots for over a decade. Publications on Jackson's collection include Pure Photography (2011--Ampersand Gallery & Fine Books, Portland, OR) and The
Seduction of Color (2012--Marquand Books, Seattle). His snapshots were also featured in Ransom Riggs's bestselling young adult book Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children (2011), and in Ambach & Rice's exhibition, "Lost & Found: Anonymous Photography in Reflection" in Los Angeles in 2012.

Jackson holds an MA degree in Art History from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and an MBA from the University of Texas, Austin. He lives in Seattle and actively collects all types of anonymous photography and photo objects, including snapshots, press prints, cabinet cards, employee photo badges, and photo-collages.

An interview with Jackson on his collection can be found here:

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We are always looking for fine photographs to purchase or consign. If you have photographs you would like to sell, please contact us.

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If you are looking for a particular photographic image, works by a specific photographer or a certain style of photograph, please contact us with your request. If we don't have it in inventory we'll be pleased to search for you. We have resources for photographic material all over the world.

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What is a Salon photograph?
Numerous camera clubs around the world sponsor regular exhibitions, called salons, where members of other clubs compete to show work. The salons during the first half of the 20th century were particularly rich, featuring the work of many artists who later became famous. We take a special interest in the the works of lesser known salon photographers, often serious amateurs or commercial professionals doing their own work on the side. Their photographs are frequently beautifully composed and crafted, with an aesthetic and print quality rivaling that of the celebrated artists of the day. Many collectors appreciate salon work for these reasons -- and because it is more reasonably priced than works by better known artists. Salon prints may bear exhibition labels or stamps on the reverse of the photograph's mount, indicating awards or other participation in various salons.

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What is a Vernacular photograph?
The term "vernacular" literally means "of the commonplace." In photography collecting, it refers to photographs which were made without artistic intent. This includes commercial photographs, personal snapshots and albums, historical images, scientific photographs, etc. Many collectors find vernacular images interesting, both for subject matter and for the occasional image that has an aesthetic appeal, albeit unintentional.

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What is a Found Image?
Our Found Images are specially selected snapshots screened with the same criteria as a fine art photograph: artistic appeal, engaging or emotional subject matter, and print quality. We search through about 1000 pieces to find one "gem in the rough" that meets our standards. There is growing interest in collecting snapshots and a new appreciation of them as art, with several fine arts museums mounting exhibitions during the past few years. Found Images from Robert Tat's collection were exhibited at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in 1998 as part of their "Snapshots: The Photography of Everyday Life" show.

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