By Stillman, Nick
Artforum International , Vol. 50, No. 7
The history of abstract photography begins with the inception of the medium itself. The first recorded photograph, taken in 1825 by Frenchman Nicephore Niepce (he called photography "sun-writing"), depicts a view outside his window. But exposing an image back then demanded a full day's sunlight, and that grainy picture is most notable for the weird, impossible angles of its shadows. Technology necessitated that early photographs such as Niepce's capture a palimpsest of accumulated seconds (or hours)--that is, function as images of abstracted time--and yet, overwhelmingly, the medium, ever since the invention of the daguerreotype, has primarily been used to capture singular, "decisive" moments. Like Alvin Langdon Coburn and Las/16 iMoholy-Nagy before her, Barbara Kasten is among the few photographers whose images have consistently used abstraction to ask how, or even whether, a photograph can become untcthered from narrative.
A self-sufficient art image in is the essence of modernism, and in Kasten's small but satisfying survey of earlv works from the 1970s and early '80s, modernism is a clear touchstone: the dissolutions and clashes of Analytic and Synthetic Cubism, the angular dynamism of Constructivism, the traces of Abstract Expressionism, each evident in the spread of twelve photographs and photograms included in this show. Among Kasten's pet techniques was the use of a large-format camera to precisely control the focus (and un-focus) of patches of spaces within the same shot. In her own words, she was a photographer behaving like a painter.
Perhaps the most revealing series in this regard is Kasten's "Photogenic Paintings," 1975-76, a set of photograms the artist made by marking paper with the light-sensitive liquid solution that creates cyanotype. The allusion to painting, therefore, is both in the title and in the pudding: Shades of Frankenthaler, Twombly, and Still are pervasive in these surprisingly gestural pieces chat cross the painterly histrionics of AbEx with the blue horticultural prints of early cyanotype master Anna Atkins. …