New York Photo Review
Volume 3 Issue 37 November 14 to 20, 2012

On the Shoulders of Giants

Aperture Remix
Don Burmeister
Book Cam by Taiyo Onorato and Nico Krebs. Source:
Taiyo Onorato and Nico Krebs, "Book Cam" 2012

As part of the celebration of the 60th year of Aperture magazine, the Aperture gallery has put together an interesting and gutsy show. Ten contemporary photographers (8 individuals and one collaboration) were asked to select works of earlier photographers, or from Aperture publications, that influenced their own development, and then to pair that work with their own. Rinko Kawauchi, Vik Muniz, Taiyo Onorato and Nico Krebs, Martin Parr, Doug Rickard, Viviane Sassen, Alec Soth, Penelope Umbrico, and James Welling produced a wide range of responses, offering an intriguing insight into the processes (and the egos) of some of the major names in contemporary photography.

Entering the main gallery area, one first encounters what is (aside from the subject matter) perhaps the ballsiest presentation. Four large, pink-toned, nudes of a young model, a few accompanied by a second, very narrow person or some deftly Photoshopped limbs. Nothing too out of the ordinary here. Though indebted as much to Lee Friedlander as anybody, they are paired with a quartet of Edward Weston nudes. The beautifully printed black and white Westons are desert dry, the disordered, rather garish Sassens, palpably humid. Sassen has also created an artist’s book, juxtaposing her images with Weston’s, deftly illustrating the contrasts and continuities of the two photographers.

Not all the other invited artists are quite as on point. Alex Soth has chosen the book “Summer Nights” by Robert Adams as his reference. Adams’ original photographs are as crisp and silent and wrenching as ever; Soth, however, feels that the sounds of the summer night are missing, and provides a video of some still summer scenes, where you can here the winds blowing in the background. With the sounds of an approaching hurricane coming in from the street, this viewer felt that life was too short to indulge such nonsense.

One’s patience was tested by two other artists as well. Penelope Umbrico’s collection of indistinct, oddly colored cell phone photographs of mountains, paired to a collection of more traditional, scenic views culled from the Aperture “The Masters of Photography”, was just a little pathetic. The same was true of Doug Rickard’s blown-up scans of generic postcards done in response to Steven Shore’s book “Uncommon Places”. Both are essentially snarky comments, repeated over and over again, in which the artists display only the dimmest recognition of the worth of the original work.

Several photographers were a bit misguided in their presentations. It was good to see some of the classic Sally Mann images from “Immediate Family” selected by Rinko Kawauchi, but Kawauchi’s own delicate photos suffered from proximity. Also James Welling’s ‘rescue’ of some missing imagery from the most recent edition of Paul Strand’s “Time in New England”, made by scanning pages from an old edition, results only in a murky collection of poorly reproduced photographs, hardly a celebration.

 by Viviane Sassen. Source:
Viviane Sassen, 2012

The two most successful presentations were by Martin Parr and Vic Muniz. Parr chose a particular issue of Aperture magazine, Number 103 from 1986, a stellar issue. This issue featured Larry Sultan’s color photographs of his father, Chris Killip’s pictures of sea-coal collectors on the Isle of Man, and two early images from Nan Goldin’s Ballad of Sexual Dependency. Parr rightly defers to all three, and presents just one small image of his own as commentary/homage alongside their prints––an acknowledgement, I think, of the real if tangential influence these photographers had on his own development.

Vik Muniz seems to have been preparing for this show for 30 years. Working with Edward Weston’s The Daybooks: Vol. 1, Mexico, we see a very early piece of Muniz’s where he has cut out pieces from pages of the Weston book to allow images from other pages to peek through. The surprising thing here is how crudely the cuts seem to have been made by this master of paper cutting. The standout piece of the entire show is next to this student work. From Muniz’s 2012 “Pictures of Paper” series is “The White Iris ” based on Weston’s photograph of the same name published in the Daybook. This is a large, subtly toned photograph of one of Muniz’s unbelievably complex paper collage/sculptures, and perhaps the only piece in this show that equals the work that inspired it. (Warning: this is a photograph that must be seen full-size to be appreciated, small web-sized images give the entirely wrong impression, which is why we have not shown it here.)

Overall, this is a show that has some very rich moments. One of the most impressive is in the middle of the gallery, where a set of simple shelves displays a veritable history of photography – a collection of the iconic books and monographs published by Aperture over the last 60 years. Salud! We look forward to the next 60!

Aperture Remix

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