Teaching the Controversy

79th St and Central Park West, New York

The plaque says, “Addressing the Statue,” and notes that while some love the historic statue, others abhor the clear subservient stance of the Native and African American.

In fact, the plaque does not so much address the statue’s problematic nature as leverage it to invite visitors to enter the museum “to learn more,” one of the natural long-term outcomes of Ronald Reagan’s charge to mediate everything in the marketplace.

A few months ago the statue was surrounded by stanchions to keep anti-racists at bay. Evidently the Museum has calculated that zealousness to have abated.

Graffiti

Looking back, it seems like 2002 was the first time it dawned on me that I could use the family Kodak point-n-shoot digital (2 MP) for more than just recording family events. I took the camera out and walked up and down the street looking for opportunities while my SLRs continued their slumber in the back of the closet.

West 99th Street, New York

Fotografiska, New York

Some years ago, on a vacation in Stockholm, I persuaded my family to accompany me to Fotografiska a vast and excellent photography museum there. For something like a year leading up to its opening, I received regular teaser emails presaging the advent of their New York branch. When it finally arrived last year I was disappointed to learn how high ticket prices were and, in the midst of the pandemic mostly forgot about it. But my wife gave me a couple of tickets and a pandemic appointment for an hour last weekend and down we went. (Click any image above to see them all enlarged.)

I have ambivalent feelings about what we saw. There were 3 featured exhibits and a fourth one dedicated to the winners of the Photography 4 Humanity 2020 contest, photo-journalistic work dedicated to human rights issues. There was some excellent work here, in the traditional documentary photography school, some of it dramatically artistic as well.

Next came a powerful exhibit dedicated to death-row inmates who had been wrongfully accused and had been exonerated by DNA evidence, many after years of incarceration and some just hours or days before being scheduled to be executed. While it was a very powerful and moving exhibit, it was only marginally photographic. Each of the subjects was shown in their own floor-to-ceiling portrait, in a darkened alcove, with their voice describing some element of their experience. However, the portraits weren’t still photographs, they were video portraits of their faces.

Next was Naima Green’s Brief & Drenching. The first part was a series of portraits, seeking to explode traditional binary-gendered portrait styles. These were quite good, and certainly had their own style, although they remained, essentially portrait photographs. The rest of the exhibit was less photographic. there was an installation of objects, a video (snapshot of bloody pearls, evidently being pulled from a vagina, above, is from the video), framed collections of motion-blurred, deliberately “artless” Polaroids, and so on.

This was followed by the gorgeous photo-montages of Cooper and Gorfer’s Between These Folded Walls, Utopia, shown in 2 of the pictures above). These were beautiful, sensuous images. I’m not sure exactly how they were made, but certainly not through straight photographic processes.

Finally, there was Andres Serrano’s Infamous. Serrano, no stranger to controversy (think Piss Christ), collected a number of racist artifacts and then photographed them. Taken at face value, they’re a shocking evocation of the extreme racism that was quotidian in this country’s culture throughout its history, reminding us, in the current climate, how important it is to extirpate this scourge. While the photography is pretty straightforward, still-life product photography and the exhibit is powerful, it strikes me that it’s not so much a photography exhibit as a racist artifact exhibit with photography almost incidentally being the medium of display.

So, I came away from Fotografiska having seen some worthwhile, and even important, exhibits but not a lot of photography. Granted, photography is a broad term and all these works can certainly fit within a catholic definition of photography, but only to the extent that the term ceases to mean much more than ‘images created using technology, with content not necessarily concerned with the medium.’ To some extent I know as a white man of a certain age, I tend to think of photography in increasingly outmoded ways. OTOH, it almost feels as if the medium has been exhausted – all that’s left is tendrils of new forms growing out of the corpse of the now-dead photography I grew up with.

Double Double Life

Continuing with my homage to Crewdson I was inspired by Kelli Connell’s Double Life. Since switching to Lightroom for most of my post processing some years ago, and more recently to Capture One, I’ve lost all my Photoshop chops. I have no idea how I finally managed to make these work…

Hommâge à Gregory Crewdson

Observing the desolation of dust and tarpaulins wrought by plumbers and contractors in their reconstruction of my apartment in search of a leak in the ancient plumbing, I was reminded of Gregory Crewdson’s upstate portraits of anomie. No massive stage sets or smoke machines in this tableau, however.