Panel: Photography in Flux – Reinventing the Medium organized by Art in America

The March 2012 issue of Art in America, for the first time is fully devoted to American photography. In connection with this fact, the magazine organized a panel discussion Photography in Flux: Reinventing the Medium hosted by art company Phillips de Pury & Co on March 15, 2012.

The panel was moderated by curator, writer and Art in America contributing editor, Marvin Heiferman. He noted that there is no a single way to think of photography. Photography is now in the stage of radical transformation, but the medium was always about a change. Digital revolution has been happening for about forty years since the first digital camera was invented in 1975.

Photo: Vintage 1975 portable all electronic still camera.

Heiferman recalled numerous discussions in the photography community that recently took place and raised such questions as: Is photography dead? What’s next? Photography has also caused cultural and social changes and has a great impact on our life. Photography is a medium that is always in flux. Marvin Heiferman’s exploration of photography is featured in his new book Photography Changes Everything that will be published by Aperture in June 2012.

Matthew Witkovsky, curator and chair of the department of photography at the Art Institute of Chicago, spoke of the changing medium from the museum perspective.He noted that changes affected not only photography as a single discipline, but the whole world of art making. Since Hugh Edwards became a Curator of Prints & Drawings at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1959, the photography collection of the museum represents diversity of photographic medium. The Art Institute of Chicago tries to fit a variety of photographic practices through exhibitions that feature diversity of works – photobooks, snapshots, combination of sound and images, conceptual photography – and through a variety of ways, the museum uses the exhibition space to present the work.

Artist, Roe Ethridge, spoke on his practice of the photography medium. He incorporates his commercial work into his personal projects. From 2005 to 2010, the artist was commissioned to photograph the construction of the Goldman Sachs building in lower Manhattan. This work became a basis for his book Le Luxe published by Mack Books. See the book here.

Dealer and Wallspace Gallery owner, Jane Hait, spoke of the diversity of photographic practices by the artists presented at her gallery. Walead Beshty, explores the relation between the materiality of the photograph and its topic. Daniel Gordon, had another approach to the material side of photography – he photographs three dimensional sculptures created from images found on the web. Mark Wyse, works with history of the medium – he cuts out images from the other photographers’ books and pairs them discovering new meanings of well known images.  Shannon Ebner, returned in her practice to handmade simple materials constructing objects and photographing them. John Divola, in his series Zuma Beach, 1977–78 performed for the camera.

Critic Vince Aletti talked about photobooks as an original form of presenting photography projects. He was one of writers featured in The Book of 101 Books: Seminal Photographic Books of the Twentieth Century (2001). Aletti presented some examples of significant photobooks – William Klein ‘New York’ (1956), Richard Avedon and Truman Capote ’Observations’ (1959), Bruce Weber ‘All-American Volume Eleven: Just Life’ (2011), Alec Soth ‘Sleeping by the Mississippi’ (2004), Collier Schorr ‘Jens F.’ (2005), Paul Graham ‘a shimmer of possibility’ (2007). Historically a photobook was a way to show the work before the galleries and museums were interested in photography. Now a photography book has become a special form of presenting the body of work as a piece and in the sequence. Many photographers like the scale of photobook and the control they have on how their work is being seen. The way a photobook delivers work can’t be duplicated in the exhibition. Aletti noted that the photobook stayed a favorite form of presenting the work for many artists and the interest in photobooks is rapidly growing.

During the discussion there were some questions raised: What is the difference between electronic images and photographs as objects? How does the physicality or its absence impact the work? What is the difference in our reactions when we look at the photograph on screen compared with a printed picture? How do we select images that deserves more attention than the others? How do we divide art from the overwhelming number of images that are out there?

Art in America’s March 2012 issue features Luc Sante’s essay on Weegee, Leah Ollman’s article on Robert Frank, Steve Watson’s writing on Lillian Bassman, a number of articles on contemporary photography including a discussion Photography Now, exhibitions and books reviews. A lot to read and to learn!