The Great Central Valley
A Photographic Exhibit and Book

Stephen Johnson
Robert Dawson

The Landscape

On any geologic map California's great Sacramento/San Joaquin Valley is the largest, most apparent feature in the state. During the last I50 years, man has completely reshaped the landscape of this valley. It is a place where dreams of making an agricultural paradise out of wilderness have come true.

This photographic exhibit and book sketch a portrait of the changes in this landscape, probing the history of the struggle to tame it, and turning to its artists, writers and scientists to characterize its dramatic evolution into the most productive agricultural region in human history.

The Exhibit

In I982 Stephen Johnson and Robert Dawson set out to photograph their homeland. They remembered the shimmering heat of long summer days, and the dense winter fog. Most of all they remembered a special quality of light and sense of space. From these memories, and out of a desire to really understand their home, they returned to the valley and have created a startling view of interior California. The Great Central Valley exhibit blends their photographs with historically significant works of art, including engravings by Thomas Moran, paintings by Albert Bierstadt and William Hahn, and historical photographs by Carleton Watkins, Dorothea Lange, and Ansel Adams. The exhibit employs an interactive computer/video display to examine this landscape in detail with topics ranging from geology to Native Americans.

The Book

The Great Central Valley is a large-format, beautifully illustrated portrait of this great valley. Text by Gerald Haslam explores the natural history, social history, the visual arts, literature and landscape studies drawing from the photographs to create a broad view of the region. From natives like William Saroyan, Joan Didion, Gerald Haslam, Merle Haggard and William Everson, to John Steinbeck and Frank Norris, many fine writers have been inspired by this landscape. The book draws together a rich selection of literature born here and weave it into a visual and documentary anthology.

The Great Central Valley Project is a celebration of the valley's regional character and its importance to the world By portraying its beauty and often overlooked history, the exhibit and book create for valley residents a shared sense of pride and identity with their homeland, and for people elsewhere, a real sense of this place. Wherever it is shown it will be convincing evidence that our destiny is tied to the vitality of the land.

"Stephen Johnson and Robert Dawson have the ability to create a stunning series of photographs of this great valley. They have the experience, tenacity and vision to persevere through the long process that a project of this kind demands. I was most impressed with their work and I am indeed excited about the importance of this project." --Ansel Adams, 1984

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Last updated on June 15, 1995. Mail comments to:
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