Converging Lenses: Issues in Contemporary Photography

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From The Jewish Museum:

On the evening of April 23, a diverse crowd gathered in the Jewish Museum’s Scheuer Auditorium for the much-anticipated panel discussion Converging Lenses: Issues in Contemporary Photography. The event sought to dissect the concerns of contemporary photographers working today — in an era characterized by an obsession with consuming and disseminating images on the internet and through social media. This panel was the latest in a series of medium-specific conversations held at the Museum, this one in conjunction with the exhibition Laurie Simmons: How We See. Writer, artist, and moderator of the panel, Chris Wiley initiated the discussion with his diagnosis of 21st-century visual culture, claiming there was a “crisis in photography precipitated by the rise of the image environment produced on the internet.” Barbara Kasten, Lucas Blalock, and Talia Chetrit joined Wiley in giving a brief overview of their own work before discussing more generally the impact of technology and the “image environment” on the state of contemporary photography and fine art.

While each of the panelists was invited for his or her own unique approach or perspective on photography, all of them shared a renewed interest in using artistic interventions to create photographic subjectivity. Barbara Kasten, an early figure of the post-pictures generation, discussed her most recent series entitled Transpositions. In these photographs, rectilinear pieces of Plexiglas are arranged to create abstract geometrical compositions. Kasten uses the photographic process specifically to highlight the materiality of objects and the illusions created by the camera when light is translated through the Plexiglas. Although her images have an alluring formalist quality, Kasten states that the subject of her work is that of what is performed in front of the lens. Rather than move the camera around a finished composition, Kasten shuffles the Plexiglas panes around the camera, using the viewfinder to guide her.

Shifting the focus to more recent applications of photography, the other three panelists represented the current vanguard of contemporary photographers who demonstrated other ways in which artistic interventions were used as a photographic practice. Lucas Blalock described the process of transforming his photographs into “drawings” with Photoshop. His compositions often compromise verisimilitude in very obvious and clever ways. Blalock spoke in favor of digital tools and platforms, claiming that they were instrumental in shaping his approach to the medium.

Talia Chetrit, on the other hand, presented a body of work that juxtaposed photographs taken in the artist’s teenage years with newer work inspired by anecdotes from her biography and personal life. These “intimate moments” are characterized by simple compositions that deny any narrative insight, thus prompting the viewer to examine the “poetic sensibilities” of the image itself.

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Despite the initial sense of anxiety surrounding the discussion of photography in the internet age, the panel was able to expose how such conditions prompted contemporary photographers to re-examine the parameters of the medium. By incorporating their own artistic interventions into their practice, it seems that these artists, and many of their peers, are expanding the definition of “photography,” which is of particular importance now as the medium becomes a predominantly virtual, non-physical art.

Link to the rest at The Jewish Museum