Magazine article Artforum International

"Emanations: The Art of the Cameraless Photograph": Govett-Brewster Art Gallery, Len Lye Centre

Magazine article Artforum International

"Emanations: The Art of the Cameraless Photograph": Govett-Brewster Art Gallery, Len Lye Centre

Article excerpt

"Emanations: The Art of the Cameraless Photograph"

GOVETT-BREWSTER ART GALLERY, LEN LYE CENTRE

"Emanations" was, according to the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery, the world's first comprehensive survey of cameraless photography. That it was happening here and now was the result of several factors coming together at just the right time: the opening of the Len Lye Centre at the Govett-Brewster; the return of New Zealander Simon Rees from Europe to take up its directorship in 2014; the fact that one of the world's most prominent theorists of photography, Geoffrey Batchen, is now based at Wellington's Victoria University; and an increasing curatorial fascination at the center with two groups of photograms made by Lye, dating from ca. 1930 and 1947, respectively.

Rees commissioned Batchen to curate a history of cameraless photography, using the Lye photograms as his starting point. The resulting exhibition stretched from the nineteenth-century experiments of Anna Atkins and William Henry Fox Talbot, past moderns like Lye, Man Ray, and Laszlo MoholyNagy, all the way through to contemporary artists including Walead Beshty, Thomas Ruff, and Christian Marclay. It was expansive, and--if it really was the first such overview anywhere--certainly supported Batchen's assertion that cameraless techniques have been unduly sidelined by conventional histories of photography. But while it's possible to establish a material thread through almost two hundred years of experimentation, it's far more difficult to establish convincing conceptual connections. As a result, the exhibition was best viewed as a series of technical vignettes, some of which were extremely rewarding on their own terms, such as the small collection of cliche verre works by Barbizon School artists, and Andrew Beck's excellent Double Screen, 2016, a site-specific project in which acrylic panels, photographic paper, and painted black triangles climbed the Lye Centre's vertiginous interior walls. …

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