LINCOLN, MASS.- DeCordova Sculpture Park and Museum
presents second nature: abstract photography then and now from May 26, 2012April 21, 2013. Abstract photography continues to be a catchall genre for the blending of media and disciplines, and a fertile arena in which artists can test photography itself. It challenges the popular view of photography as an objective record of reality and calls attention to the constructed nature of the photographic image. Today, anyone who has a cell phone can take and send digital images instantaneously. In response to this snapshot culture, many artists are taking up photographys underlying properties to consciously construct an image of reality. Second nature looks at this embrace of the highly fabricated image as a return to an earlier time in photographys historyand will pair the scientific and expressionistic experimentation of photography in the first half of the 20th century with current explorations of the medium. This exhibition highlights deCordovas photography collection, presenting work by some of the fields most prolific pioneers and innovators: György Kepes, Harold Edgerton, and Aaron Siskind.
By intermixing photographs from deCordovas collection with works by contemporary artists including: David Akiba, Lucas Blalock, Mel Bochner, Stan Brakhage, Cree Bruins, Caleb Charland, Talia Chetrit, Matthew Gamber, Meggan Gould, Bryan Graf, Sharon Harper, Greg J. Hayes, Julia Hechtman, Corin Hewitt, Barbara Kasten, Alejandra Laviada, Isaac Layman, Daniel Lefcourt, Aspen Mays, Elizabeth McAlpine, Yamini Nayar, Arthur Ou, Anthony Pearson, Daniel Phillips, Luther Price, Eileen Quinlan, Mariah Robertson, Hugh Scott-Douglas, Luke Stettner, Sara VanDerBeek, and Jennifer West, second nature focuses on the continual probing and questioning of the medium and conventions of picture-making that complicate our understanding of photography. The artists in second nature grow the ever expanding field by revisiting themes of hyperrealism, constructivism, and the materiality of time through light.
It is another nature which speaks to the camera rather than to the eye
Walter Benjamin, Little History of Photography (1931)
In his essay on the history of photography, Walter Benjamin articulates photographys second nature as its ability to detach and abstract the visible from the real. Non-representational photography lives in this contested middle ground between material reality and photographic illusionfact and fictionfirst and second natures.
Since the rise of digital photography in the 1990s there has been a reactionary and renewed interest among artists to re-engage the slow techniques of analog photography. Artists are finding their way back into the darkroom, working in low-tech and labor intensive processes. This emphasis on photographic process as subjectphotography about photographyforegrounds the debate on the mediums tie to representation. In their return to the early days of photography, many contemporary photographers build from the same lines of inquiry that compelled scientists and artists in the early part of the 20th century, but now armed with a conceptual undergirding, propose alternate modes for thinking about and framing pictured abstractions.
Mel Bochners Photography Before the Age of Mechanical Reproduction (2011) illustrates this conceptual repositioning. In the 1960s Bochner began to take notes on the misunderstandings of photography in literature, writing particularly telling quotes on 3 x 5 notecards. Decades later Bochner photographed one of these cards, a quote from Encyclopedia Britannica that reads, Photography cannot record abstract ideas and printed the negative in six different pre-20th century photographic processes: albumen, platinotype, collodionchloride, gelatin, salt, and cyanotype. Bochners multiples sardonically question photographys ability to represent the real or the authentic, through history and today. Returning to his 50-year-old Misunderstandings (A Theory of Photography) project, Bochner circles back to his initial investigations of photography and linguistics, revisiting the cameras capacity to communicate.
Bochner is just one among many artists working then and now, who have made the questioning of photographyits mechanical roots and potentiality to transcend the pictorialthe heart of their study. This exhibition is not intended to be a survey of abstract photography, but rather a focused study of art being made today that revisits and continues some of the themes and creative explorations of early 20th-century photography. Through loans of 70 works, second nature will overlay a contemporary lens with which to reinterpret and recontextualize the Museums collection of non-representational photography.
Second nature is organized by Lexi Lee Sullivan, Assistant Curator.