The Continuity of Robert Cumming

Hammer Building, Level 3
March 3, 2012–August 12, 2012
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In 1970 Robert Cumming moved to Southern California from the Midwest and was intoxicated by sun and spectacle—and confounded by all the driving. Traffic patterns and trans-county teaching gigs prompted him to spend hours in movie-memorabilia shops, poring through boxes of continuity stills from Hollywood’s golden age: high-society trappings made of false marble, outdoor scenes built on indoor sets, and inscrutable setups that could not be explained. Photography in the 1970s was emerging from the shadows of Edward Weston and Ansel Adams, iconic figures extolled for the pristine quality of their prints. By contrast, these continuity stills were humble and manhandled—hole-punched, inked-up, and crinkled. Cumming found their tattered object-hood endearing. Inspired, he spent the bulk of the 1970s exploring perceptual play in photography, constructing his own sets and tableaux.  In 1977 Cumming was offered the opportunity to wander and photograph the back lot of Universal Studios for six months, coming face to face with the real-life fantasy world of the Hollywood set. After Universal, Cumming was done with Los Angeles; the artificiality of it all had run its course. The artist now lives and works in Massachusetts.

Image: Robert Cumming, Quick Shift of the Head Leaves Glowing Stool Afterimage Posited on the Pedestal, 1978, gelatin silver print, 7 ¾ x 9 7/8 in., Gift of Sue and Albert Dorskind. © Robert Cumming.

Photographs of the Back Lot

More than thirty years ago, a UCLA Extension class on photography ended and an adult student approached his instructor. The student inquired about a studio visit—not to his own studio, mind you, but to that of the instructor, who was an artist—the photographer Robert Cumming. On view now in the Hammer Building is The Continuity of Robert Cumming...