Donald R. Blumberg

Datesborn 1935
RolesArtist, Photographer

Donald Blumberg's style is characterized not by specific subjects, but by his creative use of them to explore aspects of perception such as time, motion, and space. Blumberg first gained attention for his series In Front of St. Patrick's Cathedral (1973). In those images, he emphasized the starkly lit shapes of Roman Catholic worshippers as they stood or walked out of the cathedral's cavernous entrance on Fifth Avenue in New York City. Blumberg was inspired by the untrained vision of young gang members he had taught while volunteering for an urban anti-poverty program. Blumberg later said of their pictures: "Images were often fragmented, hands and heads truncated by the frame's edge. Figures floated upside down and obliquely, without regard to traditional horizontal-vertical relationships and perspective."

Blumberg initially trained as a scientist, earning degrees in biology from Cornell University in 1959 and the University of Colorado in 1961. A trip to Europe during graduate school changed the course of his life. Heady from experiencing works of art such as J. W. M. Turner's seascapes in London and Byzantine mosaics in Ravenna, he completed his degree, and then moved to New York City, where he initially sought out his subject matter in the streets. His work became increasingly conceptual, exploring principles that are intrinsic to the medium of black and white photography, specifically the relationship of figure to background, the tension between two-dimensional representation and three-dimensional reality, and the possibilities presented by the gray scale inherent to black-and-white photography.

In the mid-1960s, Blumberg's photographs were featured in exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art and the George Eastman House in Rochester, New York. In 1965, Blumberg began a long career teaching photography in university art programs, which in turn inspired his own work as he considered the relationship between formal learning and art making. He taught at the State University of New York at Buffalo (1965-81) and the Otis Art Institute of Parsons School of Design in Los Angeles (1981-90). Among his best-known portfolios and books are: Daily Photographs (1972), Portraits of Students (1972), and In Front of St. Patrick's Cathedral (1973).

Related Works