Academic journal article Afterimage

Strangers: The First ICP Triennial of Photography and Video

Academic journal article Afterimage

Strangers: The First ICP Triennial of Photography and Video

Article excerpt

ICP Triennial Strangers: "Presenting the works of forty contemporary artists from around the world, Strangers: The First ICP Triennial of Photography and Video explores the different roles that photography now plays in negotiating the boundaries between trust and fear, intimacy and isolation, and public and private life. This exhibition organized by the International Center of Photography in New York, Strangers investigates, as well, the social consequences of globalization through images emanating from encounters between people unknown to one another." (from the catalog)

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

"Strangers: The First ICP Triennial of Photography and Video,"

International Center for Photography,

New York, New York,

September 13-October 30, 2003.

The unspoken premise of Strangers: The First ICP Triennial of Photography and Video is that photography remains an outsider, a "stranger" if you will, in the international art scene. Why else would we need an international survey of art photography in 2003? Of course, it also happens to be the premise on which the continued existence of an International Center for Photography (ICP) rests. Founded in 1974, the ICP explained its mission in terms of keeping "Concerned Photography (1) [or] humanitarian documentary work relevant and visible to the public eye." It was not the merits of photography in general that the institution was touting, but rather the power of a specific genre of photography to initiate change. In the 1980s, with the introduction of skeptical postmodern theory, documentary photography began to fall out of favor amongst academically trained artists, in art criticism, and in museum and art gallery exhibitions. Concentrating on constructed imagery, many postmodern artists took a critical approach to the truth claims of the photographic medium. This exhibition proposes that a new wave of photographers has moved out of the studios and taken to the streets, again "documenting," but in a very different way. This shift in approach provides an ideal opportunity for the ICP to not only revisit the issue of "Concerned Photography" but also to rethink the continued relevance of its own activities.

Although the theme of the Triennial may have been chosen before the events of September 11, 2001, the planning and selection of work for this exhibition certainly came in its wake and--given the frequent evoking of September 11th at the press conference and in the exhibition catalog--seems very much to be a response to this experience. Perhaps, because of this, the exhibition is predictably New York-centric. Of the forty artists who are featured in Strangers, eleven actually live and work in New York City, and an additional four live here part-time. The curators, Brian Wallis, Christopher Phillips, Carol Squires, and Edward Earle, traveled to countless international fairs and exhibitions in an effort to make this one "international" in scope, but it stills falls rather short of the mark, with large areas of the globe un- or under-represented (South America, Asia, Oceania, and the former Eastern Block, most notably). In fact the theme, centered on "the social consequences of globalization through images emanating from encounters between people unknown to one another," lends itself to images from westernized countries. Moreover, by choosing to privilege documentary and photojournalistic images, the works in the exhibition present a rather unified image of humanity, a conflation of cultural differences of the kind found in Edward Steichen's 1955 exhibition Family of Man at the Museum of Modern Art. It is a difficult decision to theme an "ennial;" it limits one's ability as a curator to include strong work if it doesn't fit the theme and, perhaps more importantly, it abandons the possibility of representing global diversity in favor of thematic coherence. The curators can be applauded in their attempt to give structure to the traditional free-for-all. …

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