George Tate (1920-1992) displayed his uncanny ability to capture the giddiness and hope of a place and time through mesmerizing images of mid-century Southern California. Tate learned the technical aspects as a photographer in the US Army during World War II. Following the war he worked at several photography studios in the Forth Worth, Texas area, eventually teaching at the Fort Worth School of Photography. In February 1951 he headed West after receiving a scholarship to the Art Center School of Photography in Los Angeles where he honed his compositional and aesthetic ideas. After completing his studies in 1953 he worked as a staff photographer for Firestone Tire and Rubber Co. in their Guided Missile Section until 1958. In June of that year he struck out on his own as a freelance photojournalist until he retired in the 1970’s.
His 1950’s work delves into the health and fitness life style of Muscle Beach in Santa Monica, California and shows the sands teaming with contestants, athletes and adoring crowds. His unique look at people that made up the scene captures a range of emotions and moments silhouetted against an always- brilliant sky. Towards the late 1950s, he explored candid street photography showing the hustle and bustle of the city with endless sidewalks, coffee shops and storefronts as backdrops. Some of his most moving work captures the loneliness at the heart of the city, “lonesomer than the desert even.”
His Venice Surfestival Beauty Pageant series from the 1960’s takes the best from his candid street photography and brings that back to the beach. Editorial in spirit, the images show what’s behind the smiles of pageant hopefuls as they fret and worry before taking the stage. Concurrently he also photographed many models, hopeful starlets and took a variety of classic cheesecake images.
During the 1970‘s Tate focused on his commercial career and began photographing gas stations and car washes that were being built to serve new suburban developments throughout Southern California. These images show period cars proudly gleaming as they’re dried off under swooping rooflines. All in color, these photographs are a great historical record of the ubiquitous structures that once dotted practically every street corner.
Tate’s photography archives, housed at the Santa Monica History Museum in Santa Monica, California, capture a wide range of people, places and emotions of a modern day Babylon springing up along the West Coast.
“People look, but they don’t see” was one his favorite quotes.