Photographers can question notions of authority through the choices they make regarding, among other issues, content, process, and context. Artists may challenge authoritative mandates by ignoring them altogether or by proposing alternative ones, and the most provocative challenges may come in the form of the most understated sets of images.
VINCE ALETTI contributes critical writings to the New Yorker, Modern Painters, Photograph, Artforum, and other publications. His work has appeared in many books, including Andrew Roth’s Book of 101 Books. Aletti was the winner of the International Center of Photography's 2005 Infinity Award in writing.
Adam Weinberg, Director of the Whitney Museum of American Art, site of a major retrospective of works by Gordon Matta-Clark, writes in his introduction to the catalog that "an exhibition of Gordon Matta-Clark's art is an oxymoron." That statement rings true when one enters the Whitney’s fourth-floor gallery and encounters a motley assortment of architectural fragments: building façades, roof corners, chunks of floors.
Sex and food. They are the core requirements of human life, the paths to fundamental appetites that must be satisfied, the daily reminders of our physical nature, the great levelers that no individual can fully transcend. It is no surprise that sex and food, hunger zones so central to what comprises us, are also stupendously rich cultural foci: their representations, particularly by the media, are stunningly powerful sites of mass psychology and revelation, places where we expose hidden desires and manias. As a tribute to Robert Heinecken (1932-2006), Rod Slemmons, Director of Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Photography, collected images from Heinecken’s restless engagements with these topics, surveying work from the 1960s through the 1990s.
"A rose can come from a thorn, a thorn can come from a rose," reads the Afghan proverb accompanying the portrait of a baby (also Afghan, and seated next to a rose) on the back cover of Fazal Sheikh's booklet When Two Bulls Fight, the Leg of the Calf Is Broken.
Why are Andreas Gursky’s photographs so compelling? For starters, they are famously large. Quite a number of the richly colored images exhibited at the Haus der Kunst, Munich, are roughly six by nine feet, and yet so sharp that the tiniest details come through clearly.
The amateur photograph has amassed quite a fan club over the years—think of Gerhard Richter’s Atlas assemblage, or photography historian Michel Frizot's recent book Photo Trouvée. Likewise, Joachim Schmid began working with vernacular photography in 1982, when he started his mammoth project Bilder von der Strasse (Pictures from the street), an archive of nearly nine hundred images that he scavenged from the streets of cities worldwide, 111 of which are on view at his first retrospective, at London’s Photographers' Gallery.
We Are All Photographers Now! is a provocative exhibition primarily because it originated in a museum, and a prestigious one at that: Switzerland’s Musée de l'Elysée in Lausanne. If it were shown on a website the title would be stating the obvious: Flickr or Fotolog, to take two of many examples, are already hosting enough millions of photographs to make the point self-evident that if we are not all photographers now, an awful lot of us in more affluent societies seem at least to have cameras.
In 2002 Iran was famously labeled part of an "axis of evil" by George W. Bush. Among many Americans Iran is often perceived, with reason, as a threatening state ruled by an iron-fisted theocratic Shiite regime, and by a president who, in defiance of the United States and much of the international community, steadfastly asserts Iran's sovereign right to develop its nuclear capabilities.
The litany of canonical figures in modern photography has changed little since the 1960s. The conventional history focuses on just three countries: France, Germany, and the United States; seminal figures such as André Kertész and LászlÓ Moholy-Nagy are inevitably appropriated by the countries where they eventually found a home.
One of the great misconceptions about photography is that it is a one-way view upon the world. Looking outward, it is all too easy to forget the subjectivity that lies behind each and every picture that is made. Nowhere has the aspiration to the mythic, utterly automated machinehood of making pictures been more held to than in Germany.
A week before the November 2006 U.S. midterm elections, Polling Place Photo Project launched an online initiative to advance innovations in citizen journalism by documenting voter experiences. Through an open call for photographs, citizens were asked to post images and visual stories that, we hoped, would create a collective portrait of voting in America.
In the 1990s, when Hara Mikiko shot the accompanying portfolio of images, a new generation of young Japanese women photographers were snapping their way to the forefront. Bastard daughters of Araki Nobuyoshi and Nan Goldin, artists such as Hiromix, Nagashima Yurie, and Miyashita Maki were intent on communicating an intensely intimate, daringly diaristic record of their lives.
When Diana Vreeland became the editor-in-chief of Vogue with the January 1963 issue, the magazine was an institution on the wane. Under her predecessor, Jessica Davies, Vogue had begun to appear self-consciously prim and conservative, all the more so when seen alongside its vivacious rival, Harper's Bazaar, where Richard Avedon was making history month after month.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art's 1969 blockbuster exhibition Harlem on My Mind was a well-intentioned but ill-considered effort on the part of that institution to transform itself into an agency of contemporary relevance, confronting its visitors with a decade-bydecade overview of "The Cultural Capital of Black America" from 1900 to 1968.
Empty parking spaces, as photographed by Martin Parr, excite my "gimme-pig" urge, though I also feel rebuked by their muteness, their gravelly tenantlessness. The vacant parking space opens a metaphysical gap, which we (viewing the photograph) may fill with thought, but which no Range Rover or Lamborghini will ever occupy; the image commemorates the impossibility of parking in this unmetered zone, which nonetheless extends so unassuming—so neutral—a greeting.
TARYN SIMON: AN AMERICAN INDEX OF THE HIDDEN AND UNFAMILIAR
A mangy-looking white tiger named Kenny crouches in a cage in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, eyeing the photographer suspiciously. The accompanying text tells us that white tigers are produced through a selective inbreeding program and that Kenny, like the majority of such animals, has severe mental retardation and significant physical disabilities.
It's a frequent sight in Ireland: caravans clustering on a quiet piece of road, in a lay-by or in the corner of a car park, dogs rambling among cars and vans, bigger children minding small ones, and always lines of washing strung between electricity poles or road signs or bushes, or whatever happens to be handy....
For most of us the present is difficult, the future is ominous, and the past is bathed in a luminous glow. Was the past really more beautiful? Looking at photographs by Wallace Berman one could make the case that it was. Shot in Call. fornia between the years 1950 and 1976, they chronicle the American underground as it evolved from the beat culture of the 1950s through the social revolution of the 1960s.
Robert Hariman and John Louis Lucaites NO CAPTION NEEDED: ICONIC PHOTOGRAPHS, PUBLIC CULTURE, AND LIBERAL DEMOCRACY
In the early days of the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, 48 Hours ran a story titled "Defining the War" in which the narrator noted that "the search is on for the one great image that will define the battle of Iraq." The story may reflect wishful thinking among professional journalists, as if iconic images could be expected to arrive on schedule.
Among the adjectives commonly hung on the work of Philip-Lorca diCorcia, the longest-lived and least precise label is "cinematic." (Oddly, the tag is often interchangeable with "theatrical," which maybe gives some hint of the confusion involved.)
I came to know Richard Whelan, the distinguished historian of photography who died last May, in a very New York way-as his landlord. My then-wife and I owned a brownstone in Brooklyn, and Dick was a friend of a friend looking to escape high Manhattan rents.