• Pretty, as a picture.
    Curated by Lisa Boyle

Pretty, as a picture.

October 10—November 15, 2003

Curated by Lisa Boyle; featuring work by Yoshi Abe, Wendy Burton, Ed Burtynsky, Antonia Contro, William Eggleston, Joy Episalla, Steve Fitch, Paul Graham, Dough Hall, Bill Henson, Todd Hido, Louise Lawler, Chuck Ramirez, Jorg Sasse, Paul Seawright, Annika von Hausswolff, Michael Welch and Kelli Yon

The argument for photography as art has long been exhausted. Beginning around the turn of the last century, photographer’s like Edward Steichen made a conscious effort to train their cameras on subject matter which had previously been thought unworthy of the noble photograph. They sought to use the camera as artists were employing more traditional media- emphasizing line, form and composition in their pictures and shedding photography’s responsibility as more simply a recording tool. In fact, works in the photographic medium from this era and since are often referred to as “art photography” in an effort to distinguish them as aesthetic efforts as opposed to evidential documents. From that juncture, photography has been utilized and explored for its power as a medium, rather than an art form itself, which has opened up what could be thought of as an entirely new construct for criticism.

In the nineteen sixties, photography was picked up by the ever expanding ball of Post-Modern reaction and naturally found itself having tumbled right into the center of new, conceptually driven notions of art. In the 1960’s, artists’ employment of photography as an indispensable conceptual tool (marked most pointedly perhaps by Joseph Kosuth’s use of a photograph in his work “one and Three Chairs”) situated the medium at the forefront in the epistemological atmosphere of art. This was a perfectly reasonable direction for photography to grow in– people literally “think in pictures”. For the artist, photography provides the means to convey ideas in a direct way, ostensibly with less effect of the medium obfuscating the more paramount idea. Over the course of the last forty years photography has of course succeeded in not only competing with other art forms as a compelling way to communicate concepts in art, but has overtaken a position as one of the dominant vehicles for doing so. And it was perhaps on this road that beauty got pushed into the backseat, if not out of the car all together.

But there has always been a strong interest among photographers in taking advantage of the medium’s democratization of subject matter, and to use that liberty of the camera’s intent to simply see. To transform through the lens a more magical version of the un-photogenic world that we lazily believe we live in. Recently, with the advent of technological advances in photographic production, we have seen a proliferation of artists who all too clearly understand the expressive capacity of luscious, large-scale color photography processes. What has long been apparent is that, this use of such technology to produce stunning photographic objects is being exploited by some artists to create an exoticizing effect on otherwise uninteresting subject matter. Much of photography seems to be representative of the relentless march of the new banal, where any thing which bears a fleeting resemblance to the sublime is easily dropped through the lens, in the automatic beautifying process that photography inevitably performs. One must wonder what effect this trend is having on the role of photography in contemporary art? That is, from a critical standpoint where concept is king and where beauty has been held suspect, in what ways have concept and aesthetics been effectively co-mingling in contemporary photography? The latest task is for artists and viewers to start rummaging through the barrage and learning to decide for themselves the short term gains (tantalizing though they are) of some photographic work from the that which resonates more deeply.

For a certain strain of contemporary photographer there lies fertile ground in taking pictures of what has been previously thought unremarkable, and with a sustained effort have learned to tease out clues of something deeper that exists beneath the surface. This exhibition aims to present the work of several photographers who demonstrate that conceptual acuity and aesthetic choice-making are not mutually exclusive, but rather instrumentally coupled in the desire to draw out a more potent vision.