PHOENIX — For some of us living here, the icons of Arizona include Barry Goldwater, Alice Cooper and Wallace and Ladmo.
The rest of the country, however, would consider the landscape iconic. There are places in the state you cannot envision anywhere else.
A new photography show at the Phoenix Art Museum commemorates the centennial of statehood with a collection of iconic photographs of those Arizona beacons.
You might be able to guess some of them, but the photographs chosen by curator Rebecca Senf attempt to avoid the obvious. Want to guess?
She has 13 iconic subjects on her list. Yes, the Grand Canyon is there, but judging by the frequency of images, it places only fifth on the list, with six photographs out of the total 66.
Ranking ahead of it in this show are Hoover Dam, with seven images, San Xavier del Bac, with eight, and Canyon de Chelly, with nine.
And the leader — by far the most iconic single image of Arizona and fresh from its appearance on the old, maroon license plate — is the saguaro cactus, with 19 images.
Filling out the list are Bisbee, Jerome, the Painted Desert, the Navajo Reservation, Meteor Crater, Lake Powell, Monument Valley and, bringing up the rear, the Rose Pauson House in Phoenix, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1939 and destroyed by fire in 1943.
It's an idiosyncratic list, for sure, but filled with many familiar photographs, such as Ansel Adams' picture of Monument Valley and Aaron Siskind's much-anthologized abstract of peeled paint on a wall in Jerome.
There are some real stunners — six Adams prints, to start with — and vintage prints by such heavy hitters as Edward Weston, Charles Sheeler, Andreas Feininger, John Pfahl, Louise Dahl-Wolf, Lee Friedlander and Tseng Kwong Chi.
The best-represented photographer is Arizona's own Mark Klett, who made his initial reputation with "portraits" of saguaros. There are 10 Kletts here, all but one photographs of individual saguaros.
What you can't help notice, however, is that these photographers are clearly not all doing the same thing. Merely recording the topography of a very interesting state is not enough for most of them.
For many people, a photograph is a way to capture a memory: This is what it looked like when I was there. And there are photographs that do that, although on a technically more refined level than the amateur snapshot.
David Muench and Jerry Jacka are excellent craftsmen, whose Arizona Highways style of photography could hardly be bettered. But they remain glamour photos of a glamorous landscape.
The Feiningers — including a saguaro picture — are more photojournalism than artistic statement.
And there are those who aim for something different. Photography as an art demands more than something pretty to look at.
Some of the artists use the Arizona landscape to investigate the medium of photography itself. That is what Siskind does in his photographs of details that turn into abstract images. And it is what Chi does when he inserts himself into the scenes he pictures, such as the one of Monument Valley, where he stands at an angle precisely mimicking the thumb of Mitten Butte.
Others use the medium sociologically, showing a West different from the pretty one seen in calendar images, or as a reminder that there is more to be seen than rocks and trees: People have built in the landscape.
Pfahl looks at the Grand Canyon through the visitor-center window, reminding us that our visit to the canyon is less like a hike to the wilderness and more like a theme-park attraction.
Or Roger Minick's "Airstream at Monument Valley," in which the silver camping trailer is by far the largest element in the landscape. Or Skeet McAuley's "Interior of Navajo Weaver's Hogan, Monument Valley Tribal Park," with the understated irony of its Navajo woman seated on the dirt floor and the Anglo tourist boy standing next to her.
Finally, all real art functions as metaphor. It is the foundation of anything with the ambition to be art.
Klett makes portraits of individual saguaros, and we are forced to see them as individuals, not as symbols. They are, metaphorically, people.
Friedlander gets so up-close to the saguaro and its surrounding tangle of desert brush, blocking out any sense of horizon or distant space, that it functions as a metaphor for the ferocious chaos of nature and its fecundity.
The show runs the gamut and demonstrates a range of photography. That, as much as its Arizona subject matter, makes it a show to see.
Information from: The Arizona Republic, http://www.azcentral.com