Stanford, Calif. — Images by one of the nation's most influential photographers bear witness to the supercomputer industry in “Lee Friedlander: The Cray Photographs.” The series, rarely seen in its entirety, includes 79 works by an artist lauded for his straight-forward documentation of ordinary things. The exhibition opens at the Cantor Arts Center, Stanford University on March 27 and continues on view through June 16.
In 1986 Cray Research, Inc., then the world’s top supercomputer producer, invited American photographer Lee Friedlander (born 1934) to visit its worksite in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin and take photographs for a book marking Cray’s 15th anniversary. This exhibition features the vintage gelatin silver prints in the resulting set, Cray at Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin.
The Cray project was a logical extension of Friedlander’s past street photography and his scenes of people hard at work in factories and data-entry centers. It includes a range of subjects shot in Friedlander’s characteristic style: sober images of shop fronts and empty streets, views of the landscape and underbrush surrounding Chippewa Falls and close-up shots of workers. In many of the Cray photographs, he focused on the women performing fine-motor tasks such as installing the complex wiring inside a massive supercomputer. Interestingly, Cray founder Seymour Cray selected these women for their dexterity and talent in weaving and other fabric crafts.
As a whole, Friedlander’s photographs offer a complex and poignant portrait of the human, artificial and environmental components that made Cray Research what it was in 1986. The images have great historical significance as well. In 1996 Cray’s company merged with Silicon Graphics, Inc. of Mountain View, California; Silicon Graphics helped spark the rise of Silicon Valley and its radical transformation of global tech culture.
The set of works in the exhibition is the partial and promised gift of Michael J. Levinthal (Stanford BS ’76, MS ’77, MBA ’81). The exhibition is made possible by support from the Levinthal Family, given in memory of Elliot Levinthal; the Betsy and Thomas Gates Fund for Photography; Cray Inc.; and Cantor Arts Center members.