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McAdams makes her way to Albany

Published: Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Updated: Sunday, June 17, 2012 14:06


Dona Ann McAdams

This photo of a cheerleader taken by Donna McAdams at UCLA in 1976 is one of many on display at Sage College on New Scotland Ave. McAdams has been a prominent photographer since the 1970s.

A lifetime of images by photographer Dona Ann McAdams is open for viewing in the Opalka Gallery at Sage College on New Scotland Ave.


   "Some Women" opened Sunday showcasing McAdams' work over the last 35 years. The 50 gelatin-silver prints, which line the walls of the space, show a progression of how McAdams vision has grown and changed over time.

   "McAdams is a passionately engaged participant and recorder," said Jim Richard Wilson, director of the Gallery. "She recognizes something as significant, frames it and presents it to us in a manner in which it seems natural and deeply human."

   McAdams grew up in Long Island in the 1960s and by 1973 decided to leave home and head to the West Coast. From 1975 to the present she has worked at documenting the people and places she has encountered across the country.  

   Being a photographer in the 1970's, her work is influenced by greats like Garry Winogrand, Lee Friedlander and Diane Arbus. McAdams mastery of the history of photography and the styles of her contemporaries has given her the technical skills and compositional knowledge to create meaningful images.

   Looking at her empathetic depiction of women in the show at Sage, a number of things become evident. 

   At first glance there is this strong display of a decisive moment in almost every shot. From subtle glances to monumental moments, her subjects portray a candid serenity that can easily be seen as distinct objectivity.  

   However, the entire act of framing and recording an image by taking a photograph is a very subjective experience. McAdams truthfully documents her subjects. She is not distorting the reality, but she is showing it from her own personal point of view.  This is evident in the body of work hanging in the Opalka Gallery. 

   She was shooting in the age of Woodstock and the Rolling Stones. As a woman and an activist out on the street documenting other women, her opinion is hidden within the frame. 

   She is not trying to bash her ideals over the heads of her viewers. The images are still very open for individual interpretation. It is easier to understand the mood of each image if you first understand where the photographer is coming from.

   You can see McAdams' need to escape in the photograph of her living room from 1976. There is a sense of claustrophobia in the normalcy that is seen in the subtle details of the space. So much is going on within the frame of the image of the cheerleader in front of the crowd. There are so many people, but there is feeling of isolation that comes across through her separation of cheerleader from crowd.

    Through careful framing and a quick eye McAdams is also able to develop a narrative within her work. Although the images in the show come from various portfolios McAdams has created over the years, there is still a sense of progression in the series. This is probably achieved by her consistent immersion into the subject, which allowed her to add another level of connection between the viewer and the photograph. 

   This is what makes her series so successful. This is why the images need to be seen.


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