Photography in Crisis?

Article excerpt

Perspectives 2010

International Center of Photography

New York City

May 21-September 12, 2010

"Today, photography is in crisis. The traditional tools of the medium have been dismantled and its conventional locations and distribution points have been displaced." (1) Thus began International Center of Photography (ICP) Chief Curator Brian Wallis's introduction to "Perspectives 2010," an annual exhibition highlighting the work of contemporary photo-based artists. Wallis's statement echoed the same apocalyptic prediction made about painting after the invention of photography, and the subsequent prediction about analog photograpby after the invention of digital. While it is true that the tools of production and distribution have radically shifted, these transformative shifts are not necessarily negative or indicative of a crisis. As technology continues to open up new possibilities for both imagemakers and viewers, our understanding of photography's role in constructing history and its relationship to visual culture shifts. The five featured artists in "Perspectives 2010" approach imagemaking from diverse points of view, but all conceptually addressed political and social issues.

Carol Bove creates shelf installations with found objects. Her work "Has Energi" (2005-06) features books, a peacock feather, shells, an acorn, and a strange print of a red-breasted, winged demon crouching over a screaming angel. At first glance, this minimalist piece resembles someone's living room shelf. Bove's artistic process collecting, archiving, and arranging--is akin to that. of a visual anthropologist. Bove's found objects function as artifacts, documenting human patterns of consumption and social exchange. Most interesting are the books and what they reveal (or do not reveal) about. our socialization. Books by William Butler Yeats, Sigmund Freud, Le Corbusier--all iconic figures--are interspersed with small relics from our natural world. Easily overlooked in nature, Bove draws our attention to the fine details of pattern, texture, and color found in a single acorn, shell, and feather. Bove ruptures highbrow intellectualism by collaging the demon/angel print over a muted abstract painting. Through her careful arrangements, Bove, subtly invites the viewer to draw connections between nature and culture, faith and science, and image and text.

Unlike Bove's work. Ed Templeton's wall installations are not minimalist. "30 Seconds in My Shoes" (2006) consists of 139 unique unmatted, black-and-white photographs in simple wooden frames. Each image is flush against the next, the overall result resembling a large jigsaw puzzle. Chronicling friends, family, and suburban youth, Templeton's diaristic photographs evoke a range of emotions. They juxtapose religious imagery with edgy, uncomfortable images: a man carrying a cross on wheels and a painting of Adam and Eve coexist uneasily with a young woman on an ob-gyn table, naked from the waist down, with the text '"bed of unhappiness" and a dose-up of an erect penis next to a young girl's face. Some of the photographer's subjects confront the viewer, others look away or appear unaware. Templeton's work can be difficult to behold, but it does not leave the viewer in despair. Within the messiness that comprises our lives, he bestows small moments of hope and beauty such as an image of a bird in flight or the exalted freedom expressed in an image of a boy jumping off a bridge into the water.

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