Magazine article Artforum International

"Light, Paper, Process: Reinventing Photography": J. Paul Getty Museum

Magazine article Artforum International

"Light, Paper, Process: Reinventing Photography": J. Paul Getty Museum

Article excerpt

"Light, Paper, Process Reinventing Photography"

J. PAUL GETTY MUSEUM

"Light, Paper, Process: Reinventing Photography" marks another signpost in the ongoing debate about the nature of photography in the wake of the digital turn. The show, which follows neatly on the heels of "What Is a Photograph?," Carol Squires's 2014 exhibition at New York's International Center of Photography (which focused on experimental photographic practices going back to the 1970s), was organized by Getty curator Virginia Heckert, who has mobilized her institution's mighty resources to effectively broaden and deepen our understanding of the historical and technical underpinnings of contemporary photography. The tightly focused exhibition, complemented by a selection of precedent-setting photographs from the museum's collection, highlighted seven exemplary artists, all living and working in the US and spanning multiple generations--James Welling, Alison Rossiter, Marco Breuer, Chris McCaw, John Chiara, Lisa Oppenheim, and Matthew Brandt--whose photographic practices test the physical attributes of photochemical processing at a time when this means of image generation threatens to disappear from the photographic landscape.

The exhibition thus proposes a highly material conception of photography, underscored by the catalogue's inclusion of technical expositions from Getty conservators Sarah Freeman and Marc Harnly. It additionally supplants the common notion of the photograph as an image composed according to the photographer's discerning eye, privileging instead an almost retrogressive notion of the photograph that calls upon viewers to imagine artists experimentally groping around in the darkroom, mucking up papers and chemicals to unintended results on their way to becoming masters of their own unique, self-invented processes.

Upon entering the exhibition hall, visitors must walk through a section of photograms, light abstractions, and diverse forms of cameraless photography from across the twentieth century by, among others, Christian Schad, Man Ray, Edmund Teske, Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, Chargesheimer (a revelation), Robert Heineken, and Henry Holmes Smith. Most of these works are framed under mats such that the edges of the photographic paper are obscured, all the better to present the photograph as pure image. In contrast, the vast majority of contemporary works are mounted floating in frames, all the better to be seen as paper objects. Indeed, of the exhibition's three themes (announced in the title), particular attention seems to have been paid to photographic paper. …

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