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Between and Mortarboard

UMMA Object Specific Fields

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Oaks in Birklands, Sherwood

Accession Number

Oaks in Birklands, Sherwood

H. Cox; Alfred Wilson Cox

Artist Nationality
British (modern)

Object Creation Date
circa 1871-1888

Medium & Support
albumen print on paper

10 1/16 in x 11 1/2 in (25.56 cm x 29.21 cm);18 3/16 in x 22 3/16 in (46.2 cm x 56.36 cm)

Credit Line
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. W. Howard Bond

Label copy
Flip Your Field – Photography from the Collection
Intro Wall Text

The photographs presented here, in two contrasting displays, were selected from the UMMA’s vast holdings. They present the viewer with an opportunity to see two distinctly different approaches to the art of the photograph. On this wall is a set of relatively straightforward, yet incredibly diverse, representations of the same subject. Here, photographic technique presumes the truth of the image. The display on the perpendicular wall is a selection of photographic works pushed by the artists in a variety of creative directions. Inventive and expressive in nature, they illuminate the intervention of artistic vision into the photographic process.

As an artist I was struck by the breadth and size of UMMA’s remarkable collection—every theme that has interested artists over time is represented. As I looked through the many photographs, my instinct was to group together images of trees, a subject close to our immediate environment and related to my own work. Collecting photographs of trees was never an intentional strategy of the museum. The large number of such images among its extensive holdings is rather the result of the abiding interest of photographers in the subject, evidenced throughout the history of the medium.
As a grouping, these photographs demonstrate what the medium has from its beginning done so well—captured the “fact” of a place or event or thing. Yet within this one subject, the range of imagery is quite broad. The tight arrangement here allows us to see the subject as a whole, while also inviting us to compare the artists’ individual visions. For example, compare the gnarled tree trunk in the Ansel Adams image to the simplicity of the single tree on a beach in the photograph by Elliott Erwitt.
Juxtaposed to the tree arrangement is the adjacent wall with very different photographic images, carefully spaced and arranged in a more conventional manner. These are images derived through artistic innovation, and in some cases traditional photography is only part of the picture—other technical strategies are also at play. These photographs are expressive of each individual artist’s point of view, often taking photographic techniques in new and experimental directions. Most were completed in the darkroom and studio before the ease of digital manipulation so prevalent today. Consider, for instance, Blythe Bohnen’s self-portrait, a photograph capturing motion and intentional blurring of the focus, and contrast it with Lesley Dill’s “White Poem Figure (The Soul Has Moments of Escape),” an image that challenges the notion of what constitutes a photograph.
With the abundance of cell phone cameras, the photograph has become even more a part of our lives. The ease with which we can capture “real life” images, and at the same time manipulate those images digitally, means that the creative work of photographers in the past is, in a sense, now embedded in our everyday experience. Together, the two distinct installations that constitute this exhibition recall the purity of the traditional photograph while also presenting works in which creative experimentation has expanded the boundaries of the medium.
Larry Cressman
Guest Curator
Professor of Art,Residential College and Penny W. Stamps School of Art & Design
The UMMA Flip Your Field series asks noted University of Michigan faculty members to consider artwork outside their field of specialization in order to guest curate an exhibition using works from UMMA's renowned collection. The UMMA Flip Your Field series is generously supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
12) A.W. and H. Cox
United Kingdom, 19th century
Albumen print
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. W. Howard Bond, 1989/1.51

Subject matter
This photograph depicts a clearing in a forest with two gnarled, aged oak trees occupying the foreground. Teeming around the base of these trees, a field of ferns spreads out under the shade of the canopy above. The tree on the right has two enormous burls growing out from its trunk. Angled diagonally, the tree on the left has a thick knobbly base, suggesting its great age. In the background on the far edge of the field stand a row of birch trees, their white bark glowing in the daylight sun. Crisply focused, this photograph makes richly apparent the range of natural textures in the scene, from the soft fronds of the ferns to the hard, knotted surface of the trees. 

Physical Description
This photograph depicts a clearing in a forest with two old oak trees in the foreground, a bed of ferns around their bases.  

Primary Object Classification

Collection Area

If you are interested in using an image for a publication, please visit for more information and to fill out the online Image Rights and Reproductions Request Form. Keywords
Pteridophyta (division)
burl (wood)
forests (plant communities)
landscapes (representations)
live oak (wood)
nature photography
oak leaf (motif)
woods (plant communities)

& Author Notes

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