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Photography on Photography: Reflections on the Medium since 1960

Exhibition Dates: April 8 – October 19, 2008
Exhibition Location: Joyce and Robert Menschel Hall for Modern Photography

Photography on Photography: Reflections on the Medium since 1960, on view from April 8 through October 19, 2008, is the second exhibition in the Museum's new gallery for contemporary photographs. Photography on Photography presents four decades of photographs by artists in the permanent collection who have made photography itself their subject and taken aim at its claims of objectivity and its ubiquity in modern life. Featured in the exhibition are works by Vito Acconci, William Anastasi, Lutz Bacher, Liz Deschenes, Roe Ethridge, Robert Heinecken, Sherrie Levine, Robert Mapplethorpe, Richard Prince, Thomas Ruff, Allen Ruppersberg, Karin Sander, Hiroshi Sugimoto, and Andy Warhol, as well as recently acquired photographs by Moyra Davey, Kota Ezawa, Janice Guy, Josephine Pryde, James Welling, Christopher Williams, and Mark Wyse.

"Our inaugural installation was intended to introduce the general audience to many of the different strands of contemporary photography that interest us," said Malcolm Daniel, Curator in Charge of the Department of Photographs, "This new selection takes a narrower focus, showing how photographers since Conceptual Art have reflected on the medium itself in their work. With many more works by younger artists, this installation also provides more of a snapshot of where photography is at the moment."

By 1960, photography had permeated every corner of American culture, and artists began to use the camera to break down the boundaries between art and life and the hierarchies between mediums. Andy Warhol and Vito Acconci each chose the popular automated photo-booth as a means to reveal how ideas of the self are produced in the act of being photographed. Using the newly invented instant print camera, in 1967 William Anastasi covered an actual mirror with pictures of the mirror being photographed. In this allegory of the changing status of the photographic image, the perceptual gap between the object and its photograph has been all but erased.

In the late 1970s, Richard Prince and Sherrie Levine began appropriating the photographs of others and claiming them as their own. Levine's reproductions of Walker Evans's famous Depression-era photographs disrupt notions of originality while conveying a sense of lost illusions and an inability to recapture the past. Prince's strategies of manipulating found images—cropping, enlarging, grouping according to gesture or pose, and re-photographing black-and-white advertisements using color film—undermine the seeming naturalness and inevitability of the generic mass cultural image, revealing it to be a fiction of society's desires.

In the face of the recent rise of digital photography, some artists have chosen to wed a Conceptual approach with the "slow" techniques of analog photography. In a 2001 photograph, Hiroshi Sugimoto's careful framing, long exposure, and large-view camera magically animate a wax effigy of Fidel Castro, thereby reviving that which is passing from history—including, perhaps, the artist's own "old-fashioned" photography techniques. James Welling's new series of large flower pictures is also an exuberant display of technical wizardry in the darkroom. The artist's use of gels and filters to transform black-and-white negatives into prints with glowing, hallucinatory colors can be seen as a rebuff to the surfeit of digitally manipulated photography.

The exhibition concludes with the work of younger artists for whom conceptualism and the craft of photography are not mutually exclusive. In Josephine Pryde's meditation on time and aging, Elizabeth Arden Ceramide Advanced Time Complex Capsules (14 Day Course), photography is complicit in a desire to turn back the clock on death and decay. Her work forgoes digital manipulation; instead, extending the tradition of photography is as important to her as questioning it. Mark Wyse makes technically assured, enigmatic images showing traces of past life or activity. The 2006 photograph included in this exhibition, Marks of Indifference #1 (Shelf), focuses on the jagged black lines left after shelves have been ripped from the white walls. The image is an apt metaphor for photography itself: a mute presence standing in for an absence.

Photography on Photography is organized by Doug Eklund, Assistant Curator in the Department of Photographs.

The exhibition will also be featured on the Museum's website at www.metmuseum.org.

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March 13, 2008

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