More than a century after his death, author Jack London remains world-famous for his colorful and powerful way with words, but not everyone knows he also had a talent for taking great pictures.
“London was a visual storyteller as well as a writer,” said Helaine Glick, curator of the new exhibit “Eye for Adventure: Photographs by Jack London,” opening Saturday at the Sonoma Valley Museum of Art in downtown Sonoma.
“His photographs were very accomplished, sharply focused and well-composed,” said Glick, who assembled the show’s 45 black-and-white photos, taken by London between 1902 and 1910. “He was a very proficient craftsman, and great at capturing a story in images, as great as he was with words.”
The photos in the show document London’s travels around world, reflecting both some of his work as a journalist and sailing trip with his wife Charmian.
“He was a war correspondent, so there are pictures from the Russo-Japanese war in 1904 that are from Korea and Manchuria. There are also photographs he took of the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco,” Glick said.
“He also wrote a book called ‘The People of the Abyss” in 1903, and we have a few photographs from that. He was interested in the people in the East End of London. He went undercover and lived with them, and wrote about the conditions they were living in.”
The exhibit also shows some hints of archaeology, or even travelogues.
“London and Charmian went on a sailboat and traveled for two years,” Glick said.
“They went to Hawaii and they went to the South Seas. The photographs provide a window into the past and into cultures, particularly in the South Seas, that don’t exist anymore.”
Glick is a Carmel-based freelance curator, who was invited by Linda Keaton, executive director of the Sonoma Valley Museum of Art, to put together this new exhibit of photographs by London.
“These photos came to my attention some years ago,” Keaton said.
“We started working on this exhibition almost two years ago. A lot of these photographs have not been seen widely. There are about 12,000 of them in the state historic parks office archives in Sonoma.” “Jack London, Photographer,” published by the University of Georgia Press in 2010, included some 200 photographs by London.
The book’s author, Sue Hodson, will speak Saturday at the Sonoma Valley Museum, appearing in conversation onstage with Glick.
In the age of information, all art is potentially interactive, and the exhibit incorporates that spirit, too.
Jack London State Historic Park in Glen Ellen and the museum are co-sponsoring a Jack London photo contest.
Entrants can submit up to 10 photographs per person to Instagram — inspired by the author’s spirt of adventure — to Instagram, using the hashtag #jackseye4adventure and tagging them @sonomamuseum and @jacklondonpark. Or they can submit photos to Facebook with the museum and park tags.
A second exhibit at Sonoma Valley Museum, also opening Saturday and running through April 15, explores a different topic. “Libros de Artista: Artists’ Books from Mexico and the Mexican Diaspora” features 40 contemporary limited-edition books created by Latin American artists.