Picturing UC’s future: position sousaphones, reshoot, remix

At a precise location near Sather Gate, members of the Cal Band gamely shouldered their instruments Monday for a technically demanding photo op. The goal: to recreate a shot taken close to half a century ago by photographer Ansel Adams — this time for a 21st-century campus project on “picturing” UC’s future.

Michael Ashley with gigapan camera setup

Ashley with gigapan camera setup

Among the faculty consultants on hand were Michael Ashley and Ruth Tringham of the Center for Digital Archaeology. Choreographer Lisa Wymore helped position students for the shot, which used digital gigapan technology to recreate the composition Adams achieved with his 4×5 view camera.

The recreated photograph of student musicians with their gleaming sousaphones — Sather Gate and Tower in the background — will be used to design a poster for the College of Letters and Science’s signature “On the Same Page” program. Its 2012 topic: “Fiat Lux,” a portrait of UC commissioned by the regents and created by Ansel Adams and writer Nancy Newhall between 1963 and 1967.

Adams’ Fiat Lux photos evoke many and varied feelings about UC — pride and nostalgia being just two, said Catherine Cole, a professor of theater, dance and performance studies, at the reshoot. (Read her essay on the Fiat Lux series, “Picturing Our Future,” here.) This year’s project, she said, is intended “to give the students a bit of their history,” and “an opportunity  to rethink UC” at a critical juncture in its evolution.

original Ansel Adams photo

Ansel Adams' original (Bancroft Library)

Monday’s photo will also be used to create a banner and/or poster for “Fiat Lux Redux,” a Bancroft Library exhibit this fall showcasing images from Adams and Newhall’s four-year project. The Bancroft holds more than 600 signed “Fiat Lux” photos of the UC system — its campuses, labs, field stations, even educational field trips; a total of about 6,700 negatives reside at UC Riverside.

Through “On the Same Page,” students will be invited to engage with the Fiat Lux collection in various creative ways, Cole said — “to look critically at them,” asking “‘what do we want to preserve?’ and ‘what to reinvent’ about UC.” Digital-art remixes and essays on a group of the photos are just two of the ways they’ll be invited to participate.