"Martha Graham, Letter to the World," a silver print by Barbara Morgan.


By Joleen Oshiro

ALL COUPLES track their relationship against some historical backdrop, some time line that helps them recall their time together. For Cherye and Jim Pierce, photography provides that perspective. The Pierces aren't photographers ("I take signature pictures -- my fingers are in every shot," jokes Cherye). Rather, they are collectors who, over the past 30 years of their marriage, have amassed what is arguably the finest private photography collection in Hawaii.

'In Celebration of Light'

Photographs from the Collection of Cherye R. and James F. Pierce

On view: 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. tomorrow to Saturday, and 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday
Place: Honolulu Academy of Arts
Admission: $7 general
Call: 532-8700
Also on exhibit: "In Focus: A Hawaii Photography Invitational," juried by Cherye and Jim Pierce, shows the new work of 18 photographers. Runs through Sunday.

Slide lecture

Featuring: "From Imogen Cunningham to Diane Arbus: What Women Can Do With a Camera," by art historian an curator Susan Ehrens
When: 2 p.m. Sunday, followed by a reception
Place: The Doris Duke Theatre, Honolulu Academy of Arts
Cost: Free
Call: 532-8700

The Honolulu Academy of Arts is exhibiting 116 prints from that collection in a show titled "In Celebration of Light: Photographs from the Collection of Cherye R. and James F. Pierce." The show, running through Sunday, includes the works of such heavyweights as Ansel Adams, Minor White, Diane Arbus, Imogen Cunningham and Hawaii's Franco Salmoiraghi. The exhibit is accompanied by an illustrated catalog.

"In 1977 we were in San Francisco, and we were actually looking for etchings and lithographs. Then one gallery owner suggested we look at photography. He said it was the new up-and-coming thing," Cherye says of the origins of their hobby.

Jim immediately bought some photography books and began getting familiar with the medium. After six months of reading and looking at pieces, the Pierces bought their first print, "Moonrise" by Adams, at a gallery in New Orleans in 1978.

Two months later, they saw "Moonrise" on the cover of Time, which ran a story about the rise of photography as an art form.

Since then the Pierces have amassed approximately 500 prints of primarily black-and-white photography. Likewise, "In Celebration of Light" is exclusively black and white, with the exception of one or two pieces. The exhibit is organized into eight sections: iconic photographs, natural and urban environments, still lifes, nudes, modernist works, the human condition and animal photographs.

The show includes famous people as subjects, such as Yousuf Karsh's rustic portrait of Georgia O'Keeffe, a dramatic shot of Igor Stravinsky at his piano by Arnold Newman, and a classic work by Philippe Halsmann, of Marilyn Monroe standing next to a double door, which once ran in Life magazine.

"Life had cropped this photograph for their magazine," Cherye says with a laugh. "The uncropped photograph shows two doorknobs that mirror Monroe's, well, you know ...

"Life thought it would be too suggestive to run that way, so they cropped it. At the show, you can see the whole photograph with the two doorknobs."

Jim says fine prints of classic photographs such as the Monroe piece were readily available for purchase in galleries when the medium was in its infancy. Such prints now are a rare find or extremely costly.

"Most of those are in museums today," he says. "Now you mostly see works of contemporary photographers if you go into a gallery."

"Lee Neugent and His Puppy," by David M. Spear, and "Cherye and Jim Pierce," right, by Franco Salmoiraghi, are both gelatin silver prints. The Pierces are shown in the center row of the Salmoiraghi print.

IRONICALLY, while it's harder to find classic photographs today, it's easier than ever to shop. At home the couple looks at books and goes online to see what galleries have available.

"Galleries will send pieces on approval," Jim says. "If you don't like them, you can send them right back. So today, there are no barriers even though we're in the middle of the Pacific."

But for all that, the Pierces still visit galleries when they travel. "There's nothing like going into a gallery and finding surprises," Jim says.

"Yes, it's a lot of fun," Cherye agrees. "Photography's a dynamic field. There are thousands of photographers out there, but you develop an eye. Then you pick what you like."

As to the development of that eye, Cherye and Jim have taken different approaches.

Jim is methodical and cerebral, studying books and consulting photographers and gallery owners. "He's the student in the group," his wife says. In fact, many of his favorite picks from the show are works that display meticulous composition or fine printing processes, mirroring his approach to the art.

Cherye, meanwhile, takes a bit of a different tack. "I see it, I like it, I buy it," she quips.

Actually, Cherye learned about the medium from gallery owners in New Orleans, her home city, which she visited every other month for 19 years. Consequently, "In Celebration of Light" has a definite Southern flavor, reflecting her appreciation for the photographers and subject matter of the region.

"Exposure is the key thing," Cherye says. "The more you see, the more you know what you want."

"Igor Stravinsky," by Arnold Newman, gelatin silver print.

THE PIERCES' preference in photography is, literally, black and white. "Photography, particularly in black and white, makes you bring something to the table," Cherye says.

"Black and white is more symbolic as an art form," adds Jim. "It depicts emotion better, it's more graphic."

Jim refers to several prints in the show to make his point. He says of the close-up of a shell-shocked soldier, "You can't capture that (look) in any other medium." Likewise, a picture of a pregnant woman shooting up heroin captures "the tragedy, so obvious, so graphic."

"Some people say photography is a memorial to the moment that it was taken. And it's true," he continues. "Did you see the photograph of the man jumping into the puddle? It captures that one instant in time that can never be reproduced."

The Pierce collection is significant academically for its diverse subject matter, fine prints, variety of printing processes and styles. When asked about this, Jim puts his collection in perspective.

"If a person was only into vintage or 19th-century photography, he'd say, 'Oh well, that's a nice collection.' But if a person had a broad interest over the 20th and 21st centuries, he'd say it's a fine collection."

"Self Portrait, Fosters Pond," by Arno Rafael Minkkinen, a gelatin silver print.

OUTSIDE THE REALM of the collectors, photography is still an approachable art, the Pierces say. Everyone can appreciate photography because it's so accessible in everyday life.

"Everyone has their own photography collection," Jim says. "It may be different from art photography, but people can relate to photographs in their own homes."

In terms of art, he says, "not many people can afford an oil (painting), but photographs are still relatively affordable. You can purchase a good print for less than $1,000. You could get a Franco Salmoiraghi for about $650, $250 for a lesser-known photographer."

Like most folks, the couple uses photography to celebrate special days, but in the Pierce household, the photographs are gifts.

"We give them for birthdays and anniversaries," Cherye says. "In the 30 years we've been married, we've been collecting prints for more than 26 years. It's a nice thread that runs through our relationship."

The Pierces are hopeful that "In Celebration of Light" will lead more people in Hawaii to appreciate art photography.

"This show is very varied," Cherye says. "When you see a show with only one photographer's work, there's certainly a sameness about it. But our show has 116 pieces from a whole range of photographers. There's certainly something in the show for everyone."

Jim recalls that he had wanted a shot of the World Trade Center to close the show. "I wanted it to be the last photograph by itself."

But the couple decided on something entirely different. The final shot is of a dog, leaping exuberantly in the air.

"We chose to end on a positive rather than somber note," Jim says. "I want people to come and see the show and have a positive experience. I want people to enjoy photography."

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