Sarah Komanapalli | Business Manager
“Indecisive Moment” is the title of the diverse and stunning contemporary photography exhibit currently on display at The Robert L. Ringel Gallery in Stewart Center. It is a compelling exploration of what photography today can achieve using a variety of techniques, mediums, and software. Before digital photography, film photography was the main process used. The characteristics and limitations of film built an identity for photography as an art form. Now, artists are pushing the boundaries of that identity, showing how digital photography and techniques have changed the art and allowed it to grow.
The collection was first displayed in South Korea in November of last year. Liz Erlewine, Head Curator, and Min Kim Park, Associate Professor of Integrated Studio Arts, collaborated to organize this show. This lead them “to the work of ten leading contemporary photography artists who are all pushing the boundaries of what a photograph is, what a camera is, and what they are doing with those objects,” as stated by Erlewine. Erlewine and Park also moderated a panel with several of the contributing artists, to discuss the current state of photography.
Artists Jill Greenberg, Matt Lipps, Jessica Labatte, and Anastasia Samoylova were present for the panel along with Assistant Professor of Design History, Jennifer Kaufmann-Buhler. The purpose of the panel, as explained by Park was “to understand and recognize that we are in a very particular moment in the history of photography, where current contemporary photographic work references different genres.” She continued, “As you can see in this exhibition, there are extremely diverse and provocative methods and tools were used. There work is inviting us to contemplate different forms of visual experiences that goes beyond the nostalgic and conventional aesthetic definition of photography.”
The exhibit also poses many questions. “It challenges us to think about what photography actually is,” explained Park. How do we look at and analyze photography? How do we interpret this current ontological shift that is happening?
Jill Greenberg explores what photography can do for painting in her series of photographs. Her photographs depict large, dramatic swirls of paint, with bright highlights and color. Greenberg describes her images not as photographs or paintings, but rather “moments of paintings.” She described her process, saying, “I am making paintings, letting them dry, and photographing them as I go. I combine daylight, artificial light and stenciled light and capturing all of that.” Greenberg utilizes sophisticated technology to capture these images, and believes you need both access to and ability to properly use the equipment. “People take a long time to use the technology and realize what they can do with the technology,” she said. “It takes to figure out what to do with it and how it makes sense.”
Matt Lipps is a California based artist whose work features photographed cut outs. These set ups are assembled from other photographs, then re-photographed in new contexts. “I work in appropriation,” explained Lipps. “I pull from images that are historical references. I pull from high culture, low culture, things that I think we all know or have a relationship too. Events in time that you were not at but have a feeling about. I want to try to pull of those things into a photograph so that you have prompts that can take you to many different spaces at once.”
Lipps explained how powerful an image can be by the associations in holds, even though it is simply ink on paper. He described an event that happened in one of his own photography classes in college. “She [the teacher] surveyed the room and asked if anyone had a picture of a loved one,” said Max. So someone produced a picture from the wallet and she asked who it was. They replied it was their mom and then the teacher ripped it in half. We gasped. It was so real and palpable. It drove home the point that it was a physical piece of paper that we need to take care of. However, there was also the representation of the figure that was on it. Yet it was also motherhood itself that the teacher had decapitated in front of the class. There was that powerful moment where all three of those things came together and adhered into one image.”
Jennifer Labatte challenges that idea of recognizing images in photography to draw meaning from. Her work instead focuses on mundane objects that are abstracted through photography. “I was always trained as a photographer to look through the picture and talk about things in the image,” Labatte said. “We never talked about how it was made. I started working with abstraction as a way to subvert a reading of what the subject was so that you would be more present in front of the photograph.” She continued saying, “all of my materials are things that I find on the street; they’re pieces of trash, things that are mass produced and very consumer based, but have been torn or worn and become unique objects.”
Anastasia Samoylova’s art consists of cutouts of photographs that are then reassembled into three dimensional models which she photographs with careful lighting. She describes her goal as an attempt to “challenge traditional notions of the Beautiful and the Sublime in the age of lens- and screen-mediated environments.” Samoylova is especially interested in the fleeting, temporal nature of her constructions. “The spontaneity of it comes from it eventually falling apart,” she explained. “It’s that fraction of a second before it falls.”
The images of glaciers, mountains, and lighting used to make the constructions Samoylova photographs are taken from the public domain. However, her work is not about appropriation. “There’s such an overflow of images now that people void their authorship and I find that absolutely amazing,” said Samoylova. “People are willingly giving away their images for you not just to look at, but for you to use.” She continued saying, “I’m interested in this idea of abundance, repetition and tidal wave of images.”
Jennifer Kaufmann-Buhler spoke about the representation and manipulation of truth in photography. “We consume so many images all the time and we do not often have the time to question them,” she said, referring to the myriad of images that fill social media and news. “The images become a symbol of truth, news, somebody’s trip abroad,” Kaufmann-Buhler explains. “We treat these images like they are authentic, almost as if they are a window to truth. Of course they are anything but; images themselves belie their making.” She continues saying, “In fact, we look at images and do not want to know how they are made, because the images are so compelling or beautiful. We resist knowing what’s behind the camera.”
The panel offered incredible insight about the “Indecisive Moment” exhibition, leaving the attendees with numerous questions to ponder while viewing the incredible array of photographs. “Indecisive Moment” will be on display until December 9th, so take the time to visit the gallery and see how photography is being redefined to challenge our understanding and relationship with images.