New York Photo Review
Volume 3 Issue 22 June 13 to 19, 2012

It’s in the Mix! The Photographer as DJ
Anne Collier
Don Burmeister
Veterans Day (Nudes, 1972 Appointment Calendar, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, Edward Weston) by Anne Collier. Source:
Anne Collier, "Veterans Day (Nudes, 1972 Appointment Calendar, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, Edward Weston)" 2011

In a world filled with images, searching for and sequencing pre-existing images has become a major art. Just last year “New Photography 2011” at MoMA featured an artist who spent hours combing through Google Street Views selecting and grouping anonymous shots. With these assemblage mixes spreading throughout the museum world––monuments to the art of inspired thrift-store routing and arranging––the age of the Photo Jockey has arrived.

Photographing artwork has been one of the basic tasks of photographers from the earliest years of the profession. The ability of the photograph to both disseminate and to preserve paintings, prints, sculpture and architecture in a seemingly neutral and truthful fashion has been the cornerstone of countless art books and lectures for generations.

But photographing photographs has a shorter history. Certainly by the late 19th century photographs of dead or missing people can be seen in group portraits, and there are incidental photographs in many scenes from that time. Still, it was not until the 1920’s, with the widespread appearance of large billboards featuring photo-derived imagery that photographers like Walker Evans and Andre Kertesz began to make surrealistic juxtapositions of these images with the ‘real’ world around them into central elements of their own images.

Sherrie Levine later made the most challenging use of this appropriation of imagery. In 1979 she eliminated any contextual framework and simply ‘rephotographed’ photographs by Walker Evans, presenting the resulting prints as her own work. This questioning of the importance of authorship, originality, provenance and value (not to mention copyright) sent the art\semio/text\industial/complex into a tizzy and the buzz is still being felt today – to wit, the current show of work by Anne Collier at the Anton Kern Gallery.

Italian Still Life #1 by Anne Collier.

Ms. Collier, whose work will be appearing in the “New Photography 2012” show at MoMA in the fall, has a more relaxed approach than Levine. Her photographs are of other photographs, but they are kept in context. We see an Edward Weston nude, but it is in the context of a Museum of Modern Art appointment book. Others are of books, advertisements and greeting cards that all include photographs (or rather reproductions of photographs) themselves. In some ways Collier’s work is like the photographs of artwork by Louise Lawler, except that Collier’s particular shtick is to photograph the pieces against anonymous, evenly lit, white backgrounds, often propped up against a wall. These are not attempts to present the new work as equivalent to the original. It is the physical nature of the objects, generally how flat they are, that is being emphasized somewhat in the manner of Magritte’s, Ceci n’est pas une Pipe.

This distancing of the image from the object is all well and good, and carries the pictures along for a few moments. But then a strange thing happens––the content of the interior image starts to come to the fore. The visually more complex image begins to dominate the bland background, and you find yourself engrossed in the photograph within the photograph, rather than with the photograph that is right before your eyes. (Often the contents are somewhat startling, although hardly anyone is surprised these days that camera advertisements from the 1950’s or 60’s put more emphasis on naked ladies than on shutter speed.)

To this reviewer the most interesting photographs were from a set of European birthday cards, obviously meant to be sent by dutiful, if wayward, daughters to their fathers or favorite uncles. All were table-top tableaux of masculine accessories: bottles of expensive liquor, cigars, leather gloves or keys to sports cars, in the center a top of the line camera, every image a small daydream of the post-war, European good life. But that’s the problem, the content of the photographs – those ironically cheap, flea-market finds – is so much more interesting than the statement made by the multi-buck, meta-photographs being offered for sale. Perhaps the question is: can the ironic ever trump plain old reality in photography?

Anne Collier

Anton Kern
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Thursday, April 5 to
Tuesday, June 12, 2012
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