Monday, November 26, 2007

Everything new feels old again: “New Photography 2007”


(Scott McFarland)

MoMA has their annual “New Photography 2007” show up, but the NY Times has given it an overall fairly gentle but firm two thumbs down (via Gallery Hopper and PDNPulse).

I've not seen many of these kind of shows in person - though I've often looked through the catalogues or books that come out of them - as I say, MoMA seems to have made it an annual thing, and the Musée de l’Elysée in Lausanne did a show "Regeneration: 50 Photographers of Tomorrow" with a big thick book etc.

Now I'm not quite sure what the cause is, but they rarely seem terribly exciting or inspiring or stunning. I don't know if there are pressures in the way curatorial choices to be made, fashions to follow or whatever, but it's rare that these shows seem to come up with much particularly fresh. I found a similar book a while ago in the library (wish I could remeber the institution) from such a show in the mid 80's and I didn't recognise any of the fresh young things that were it's focus as having gone on to greater and bigger things - in fact I don't think any of them showed up on today's radar. And the photographers from that era who are the leading lights today don't always seem to have featured in such shows. I don't know, but maybe it's a death knell to be featured in one of these things...

Anyway, here's a bit from the Times:


This Year’s Models: Searching for Fresh Approaches in Photography

"Bright letters announce “New Photography 2007” on a wall outside the Museum of Modern Art’s photography galleries. Just inside is a room of vintage-looking black-and-white photographs. Contemporary photographers are showing a strong interest in early photography, so your first thought is that the curator has unearthed someone recycling the ideas and methods of Eadweard Muybridge, Alfred Stieglitz or Clarence White

But no. These are pictures by Muybridge, Stieglitz and White. Keep walking; the annual showcase of emerging photographers is in the next room. After that accidental spark of excitement, though, the show itself is something of a letdown.

“New Photography” is generally limited to three or four artists, which puts pressure on the chosen few to deliver something fresh. None of this year’s photographers accomplish that...

Ms. Berkeley is from the Diane Arbus school: Her work involves a lot of social engineering. She identifies people on the street or subway, and over a period of time coaxes them into posing. (Arbus used urban parks as her hunting grounds.) Ms. Berkeley’s art is often described as showcasing odd beauty or challenging stereotypes of female beauty....

(Tanyth Berkeley)

Earlier this year MoMA mounted a retrospective of Jeff Wall, the master of the digitally enhanced (or fabricated) faux-narrative photograph and one of Vancouver’s most famous artists. Mr. McFarland’s picture of a young family watching a keeper feed porcupines at the Berlin Zoo could be a Wall from around 1989 or a student facsimile. (It’s no surprise, then, to discover that Mr. McFarland once worked as Mr. Wall’s assistant.)

...Ms. Searle is good at creating visual effects: the rhythm of the rising and falling grape-skin mounds; the sandstorm look of the crepe-paper silhouettes in water. But her conceptual basis feels weak, particularly when it is spelled out in hackneyed wall texts...

(Berni Searle)

...A consistently strong point of the “New Photography” series, including this edition, has been the international array of artists. But so far it has been weak in showcasing new developments and contextualizing contemporary photography within the collection, which helps explain the jarring transition from Stieglitz & Company to the current crop. You hate to be the spoiler, the insatiable art viewer constantly demanding that rush of something new. But when a show is called “New Photography 2007,” you feel within your rights."


Hmm, in retrospect, the review is rather more scathing than I thought the first time I read it...

(Of interesting technical note, the work of all three in the show seems to be being shown as Pigmented Inkjet Prints).

2 comments:

John Brownlow said...

The single McFarland picture that's shown looks interesting to me, but maybe that's because I've thought about doing the same kind of digital composite but never gotten round to it. The rest, bleh.

Luckily fine-art photography is still an arena which actually belongs to the amateur, despite what the art market tells you.

Federico said...

I happened to visit the exhibition last October. It was quite bad and not at all "new". Some (I repeat, some) of the portraits by Tanyth Berkeley (like the one included here) were not bad, though what looked like poor (deliberately so?) inkjet prints combined with the loose way her work was presented didn't make them really attractive. And those were the better ones... I hadn't been to the MoMA for some years and it didn't help that I first took my time to see a beautiful showcase of 20th century -mostly black & white- photography from the permanent collection. Looking at the Strands and the Winogrands and the Friedlanders on the nearby gallery didn't help at all...

JoAnn Verburg's work which was being exhibited at the same time was a bit more interesting, although it had its ups and downs.