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.
Steidl printed a new edition of Sander’s classic 7-volume People of the 20th Century a few years back at a quite bearable price and I was lucky enough to pick up a copy for something like $75 (Amazon currently lists 7 copies ranging in price from $325 to over $1000).
If I can’t photograph anything new, I guess I’m down to photographing books of photographs or books about photography…
When I was about 12 or 13, Time-Life Books started issuing a subscription series of books on photography. They were very cheap, but much more than my weekly allowance would cover. I persuaded my father to cover half the cost and every other month a new volume would arrive. I devoured them. Initially a series of 8, they subsequently extended the series but we had left the country by then so I only have the original set. Still a worthy source for the budding young photographer.