Curated by Nicholas Olsberg and Andrea Dietz, "Matter, Light and Form: Architectural Photographs of Wayne Thom" is a lean and sneakily ambitious show. It has a good deal more to say about photography and design history — particularly the story of Late Modernism in Southern California architecture — than it lets on.
It includes 36 photographs of 17 buildings, in Los Angeles but also in Vancouver, Canada; San Diego and on Navajo land in Arizona, by architects including Giò Ponti, Frank Gehry, Arthur Erickson, A. Quincy Jones, William Pereira and the photographer's brother, Vancouver architect Bing Thom. Fourteen of the pictures are in black and white and 22 in color. They are divided into three categories by building type: plazas, towers and pavilions.
I wish nearly all of the prints were bigger — not Gursky big but roomier. I wish one of my favorite Thom photographs, of the cubic Sears, Roebuck offices in Alhambra as seen from the far side of a wide parking lot, were included here. And the way the pictures have been mounted, under simple sheets of glass that represent a compromise between Thom's desire to show them unframed and Olsberg's interest in giving them some depth on the wall, is not ideal.
There are no such histrionics in the photographs, nearly all of which are patiently, coolly composed. Especially in black and white, Thom shows a preference for crisp, slanting light and heavy shadow — many of his best pictures, he told me, were taken at 5 a.m. But his photographs tend to be one notch quieter, less overtly glamorous or forceful, than Shulman's, which for all their brilliance were also the pictures of a dedicated salesman, a man happy to be always selling something.