New York Photo Review
Volume 3 Issue 2 January 18 to 24, 2012


2011: A Personal Perspective
Goblin Spider Claw (Scanning electron micrograph) by Nadine DupŽrrŽ. Source: amnh.org
Nadine Dupérré, "Goblin Spider Claw (Scanning electron micrograph)"

While youngish MFA photographers, endlessly recycling the same old lame devices, continued to jostle each other for our attention in 2011, it was the scientists not the artists who captured it. Dedicated to revealing the hidden truths of the natural world rather than the outsized egos of the human one, scientific imagery is reportage of a different order. The AMNH’s Picturing Science is a welcome attempt to acknowledge these documents of the invisible as the radical, revealing, and innovative works they are

“For it is science that reveals hidden worlds, strange and astounding and bizarre, science that marries the beautiful with the hideous, science that throws everything into new and startling contexts, conjuring scenarios more imaginative than fiction.”

The obverse might be said of ICP’s Harper's Bazaar show which demonstrated much of what is wrong with contemporary photography.

“Chronicling an era in which endless recycling alternates with a depression-fraught realism straight out of rehab (in fact they do a rehab layout inspired by Marc Jacob’s stint therein,) this show highlights a decade whose imaginative exhaustion is prettily apparent.”

But there was at least one show, Caleb Charland's at Michael Mazzeo, which defied the general malaise.

“Using as his point of departure scientific ideas and optical phenomena, Charland has created a series of intelligent, meaningful, poetic images that remind us of what photography can be.”

Study for Sun with Face Mirror by Caleb Charland. Source: michaelmazzeo.com
Caleb Charland, "Study for Sun with Face Mirror" 2009

Two big blockbusters of the 2011 season, the Jewish Museum’s Radical Camera: New York’s Photo League, and the Brooklyn museums Hide/Seek, are perhaps most outstanding for the sheer bulk of first-rate material on display.

Of the Radical Camera:

“For a 15 year period, from 1936 to 1951 the League functioned as a rite of passage for many American photographers –– even those for whom the documentary style was merely a point of departure. Unsurprisingly, therefore, it not so much the presence of stunning work in the show, although there are some absolute gems, but the amazing number of talented people who passed through the League that impresses.”

And of Hide/Seek:

“Photographically the show has an abundance of riches. Starting with Thomas Eakins portrait of ‘Uncle Walt’; as so many later poets called Whitman, to Minor White’s beautiful nude of Tom Murphy, to Berenice Abbott’s masterful portraits of Janet Flanner, Betty Parsons, and Djuna Barnes, to Walter Evans’ study of a moody young Lincoln Kirsten and Cecil Beaton’s double portrait of Gertrude and Alice, the show treats us to treasures from the photographic archive we could look at endlessly.”

Among the smaller shows, Danziger Projects’ Edward Steichen retrospective, fabulously printed in black and white by master printer George Tice, stood out, giving us a serious look at this undervalued master’s work.

“One could dissect picture after picture...to demonstrate how emotional and psychological insight (subtlety conveyed through light and composition rather than dramatic poses and exaggerated expressions) went hand in hand for Steichen with an esthetic mastery of the medium.”

L. Parker Stevenson’s, Modernism & Commercial Photography: 1920s - 1930s was another little gem.

“This excellent small show...illustrates the close ties between commercial photography and Modernism in the 1920’s and 30’s, a period when boundaries between different genres were not so strictly drawn, nor the art director’s hand so heavily felt.”

And to round out our recollections of 2011, Ana Barrado’s well done work from the 1980’s deserves a mention. Nicely selected, modestly displayed, her sexualized rockets and nuclear dreamscapes benefitted by an acutely focused reportorial eye.

“One of those shows that hinge entirely on their chosen subject matter, Ana Barrado’s images of rockets at the Deborah Bell gallery form an interesting chapter in the photography of the Machine.”

2011: A Personal Perspective by Barbara Confino

Barbara Confino is an artist and writer whose work is housed in such collections as The Bibliotheque Nationale de France and the British Museum. Her graphic history, The Genetic Wars, can be viewed at www.thegeneticwars.com. Her writings on art and culture have been published in ArtsCanada and The Village Voice among other publications. She is currently associate editor for The New York Photo Review.
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