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Photographic archive of Oliver Gagliani acquired by the Center for Creative Photography


Tucson, Arizona - March 28, 2013 – The Center for Creative Photography at the University of Arizona is pleased to announce the acquisition of the photographic archive of California artist Oliver Gagliani (1917-2002).

Oliver Gagliani is known for his technically beautiful photographs as well as for his engaging subject matter. His distinct photographic vision imbues ordinary objects with a spiritual quality. For him, abstractions and fragments of the whole reveal the underlying essence. Gagliani wrote, “It is the photographer, through the medium of light, who must confront these objects directly, not as he would like them to be, but as they are in themselves. It is the measure of his success as to how deeply he is able to perceive the life which they have experienced, and penetrate the surface to tap the wisdom which they have to offer.” Gagliani’s inspired color works created in his many trips to Italy also reveal his mastery of the photographic medium.

Born into an Italian-American family in Placerville, California, Oliver Gagliani lived most of his eighty-five years in South San Francisco. From grade school through college, music was his passion. In 1940, he enrolled in San Francisco State University to major in music with a concentration in conducting. However, after suffering a significant hearing loss during his service in WWII, his plans for a career in music ended. By chance, he saw photographs by Paul Strand at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in 1946. At that moment, he realized that a career in the arts was possible with photography. Gagliani believed that both photography and music share the principles of tones, harmonies, and rhythms. He wrote, “The contrast that Strand could make between light and shade, between object and space, was marvelous. It made me think of music, which I had been studying for a long time.”

Largely self-taught, Gagliani’s only formal training in photography was seven weeks of study in 1946 with Ansel Adams and Minor White at the California School of Fine Arts (now the Art Institute of San Francisco). He had his first solo exhibition in 1954 at the Peninsula Art Association in San Mateo, California, which was followed by many others, including exhibitions at the George Eastman House, San Francisco Museum of Art, and the Witkin Gallery. Over the years, he taught workshops and had a large group of devoted students. He was a founding member of the Visual Dialogue Foundation in San Francisco in 1969. With a Fischer Grant from the University of Arizona in 1974, Gagliani traveled to Italy and returned there annually for 20 years, producing over 20,000 images. In 1976, he received a National Foundation of the Arts grant. 

The Oliver Gagliani Archive at the Center for Creative Photography contains over 700 fine print photographs in addition to papers, negatives, contact sheets, detailed exposure tests and notes.

Release date: 
Friday, March 29, 2013
Press images: 
Gift of the artist