Professor Richard Gordon Dies at Age 67

Professor Richard Gordon, photographer, husband, father, teacher and friend passed away in his home early Saturday surrounded by his wife, sister and son. Gordon was a beloved and longtime Photography Professor at CCSF. In addition to being a teacher and friend, he was a renowned American photographer who photographed in the United States for more than 40 years. Close friends will be notified of his memorial which is forthcoming.

Gordon was an enthusiastic educator and conversationalist in regards to photography and his own pursuits in the profession. He always had time for a long talk regarding news in the photography world and made time to visit with friends. When we learned of his illness initially and expressed our sadness he wrote:

“I am not sad even if that sounds strange. As an older friend wrote, or something to the effect, “Anyone over the age of 60 who has not seriously thought about death is a fool.” Not something I would have chosen, but I’ve had a good life and even put it to some use–this part is (so far) not bad. When a child dies, that is a tragedy, not so for anyone of my age. Take care and be of good cheer. -Richard

Gordon is the author of Meta Photographs (Chimaera Press) 1978, One More for the Road (Flâneur Bookworks) 1996 (on which A. D. Coleman wrote “Still photography has its own versions of road movies and buddy pictures, but few of the latter have made it into book form”), American Surveillance (Chimaera Press) 2009, Jessie Reads a Book, (Chimaera Press) 2011, Notes From the Field (Chimaera Press) 2012, and a number of limited-edition, handmade artist’s books. His works are in the permanent collections of SFMOMAJ. Paul Getty Museum, Corcoran Gallery of American Art, Rosenwald Rare Book Collection, Library of Congress., Museum of Fine Arts Houston, Wagstaff Collection (Los Angeles), Santa Barbara Museum of Art, and others. After more than ten years, in 2009 Gordon published American Surveillance,  a book that takes a visually intricate, and often witty look at the role and surveillance and the difference between observation and electronic scrutiny.

American Surveillance.
Someone To Watch Over Me.
Photographs by Richard Gordon.

Gordon has used a Leica camera, following in the traditions and craft of many others, for example Robert Frank, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Helen Levitt, Lee Friedlander et al. all of which were street photographers photographing unstaged, real-world scenes in black and white using traditional processes throughout the American continent. In 2009 Gordon started photographing exclusively in Leica Digital (color.)

Richard Gordon wrote the first review (A.D. Coleman wrote the second) of Danny Lyon‘s seminal book, The Bikeriders (1968) in The Chicago Literary Review. In 1973 his review of Elaine Mayes‘ exhibit at Gallery 115 appeared in Art Week. In 1999 Gordon saw the Winogrand exhibit at the Fraenkel Gallery of The Man In The Crowd: The Uneasy Streets of Garry Winogrand and picked up pen to review the book for Photo Metro. This was followed by a review of Joel Leivick‘s Carrara in the same publication. Gordon wrote a review of John Cohen’s There Is No Eye for Photo Metro, but it folded and the review finally saw the light of computer screens as the first book review on the photo-eye website. In the past ten years, Gordon’s reviews have regularly appeared on the photo-eye website and with the relaunch of their magazine online, Gordon wrote a 6,000 word piece in two parts on the 50th Anniversary edition of Robert Frank‘s The Americans. He also wrote the introduction to Toby Old‘s Times Squared [4] (Chameleon Press, 2002) and the essay on Lewis Hine for the 2004-05 Routledge Encyclopedia of Photography. Aside from the traditional exposition of the Hine entry, what has distinguished Gordon’s essays and reviews is the rare combination of a passionate insider’s view—the photographer’s view—of photography and the photo book. Gordon writes as a photographer engaging and appreciating the work of his colleagues. He has written on the obvious choices—in addition to Robert Frank— of Lee Friedlander, Kertesz, Helen Levitt, Mary Ellen Mark (whose work he recused himself from commenting upon—pointlessly—as he printed her classic book, Ward 81), and Danny Lyon. More importantly he has sought out and commented upon the work of Mike Smith, Thom Roma, Sylvia Plachy, Rosalind Solomon, Barbara Crane, Wayne Miller, and an essay on Tom Arendt‘s latest book, Home. Richard Gordon is currently rewriting some of these essays, and writing new essays with an introduction for future publication.

American Surveillance.
Someone To Watch Over Me.
Photographs by Richard Gordon.

Richard Gordon conceived and then executed The Firestorm Family Portrait Project. [5] Together with Chris Johnson, other local professional photographers, California College of the Arts, local photo labs and Kodak, the project was about replacing, or a new beginning of, a family photo archive for those who lost their possessions in the Oakland Firestorm of 1991. In keeping with Gordon’s iconoclastic views, he resisted all attempts to commercialise this project, insisting that it not be about exhibitions or books.

In 2012 Richard Gordon had group shows at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art Portrayal Betrayal [6], the Robert Koch Gallery (San Francisco) Inside/Outside, and a one man show at the Thomas Welton Stanford Art Gallery. [7]

Kenneth Baker on the 2012 group show: [8] Inside/Outside,

Various other window views follow, the most conceptually striking, Richard Gordon’s “Robert Frank’s Window, Bleecker Street” (1984)

Judith Hoffberg, the founder and editor of Umbrella said in her review of Gordon’s One More For the Road,

Yet this is more than photographic interest, this is a book of a friendship, personal, yet universal,….that is clear to all us human beings.

David Elliot (long time film critic) in the Chicago Sun-Times on Gordon’s Meta Photographs: The book opens with a remark from the visionary writer Bruno Schulz:

Reality is as thin as paper and betrays with all its cracks its imitative character.” Gordon has taken that rather gnomic attitude and amended it into a series of conscious contemplations, his pictures dealing with all the ways in which people use pictures, see themselves as pictures, become part of the pictorial processes. And in his best work, he slices through that thin paper of reality to reveal things that are not so much imitative as indicative.

Tom Gitterman on Meta Photographs:

As the title suggests the works are often photographs about photography. Gordon’s images are a part of an early discourse about how society has used photography as a means of representation. Though he is theorizing about the medium, his images are often witty, sometimes humorous, while formally exploring the exotic of the everyday.

David Levi-Strauss on Gordon’s political pictures from a review of exhibit at SF Camerawork, 1984.

Gordon’s images subvert the hidden ideological agenda of mainstream photojournalism…..The hidden agenda is not a tightly controlled conspiracy but, in effect, is the result of all our public assumptions and perceptions. Gordon’s images are often saved from the easy characterisation and pat solution by his attention and sensitivity to faces, as in the image of front line supporters at a Jane Byrne rally in February 1983. Gordon’s faces ae seldom generalisations. Gordon is at his best when the ambiguities are active and the frames are filled to the corners with questions rather than answers, causing the viewer to think, rather than to accept or reject.

In a Vicki Goldberg review in The New York Times Sunday July 21, 1991 of an exhibit at Staley-Wise in NY of Women Are Beautiful from Esquire she wrote,

The youth and glamour predominant in this show are gently spoofed in Richard Gordon’s 32 Marilyns: Miss Artichoke Festival, San Francisco…..These and 15 more like them, not one of whom resembles the original in the least, were hired to pass out pieces of artichoke at the festival to commemorate that great moment in 1947 when Marilyn, still largely unknown, became the first Miss Artichoke in history.

A biography of Richard Gordon is included in Dictionnaire des photographes, by Carole Naggar, edition Seuil, 1982

Counting The House is one of the books illustrated in photo photo photo books, 802 photo books from the M.+M. Auer Collection, 2007 Editions M+M (Switzerland).

Educated at University of Chicago (1963–1967) and in 1982, Gordon received a N.E.A. Fellowship. Richard Gordon lived in Berkeley, California.

Richard Gordon was a part-time instructor at City College of San Francisco,[9] Stanford University Continuing Studies and other San Francisco bay area colleges.

Read more about Richard Gordon.


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