Pin It
Compare and contrast is the modus operandi of the Ackland Art Museum's Depth of Field: Expanding Perspectives in 20th Century and Contemporary Photography.

Double exposure 

Giants of mid-century photography meet the present day

Depth of Field: Expanding Perspectives in 20th Century and Contemporary Photography
UNC's Ackland Art Museum
Through Dec. 31
843-1611, www.ackland.org

click to enlarge "Submerged Gazebo, Salton Sea, California" (1984, printed 1997) by Richard Misrach, American, born 1949. Chromogenic (Type-C) print. - PHOTO COURTESY OF THE ACKLAND ART MUSEUM

Compare and contrast is the modus operandi of the Ackland Art Museum's Depth of Field: Expanding Perspectives in 20th Century and Contemporary Photography.

Selections from well-known mid-century photographers are matched with more recent works. Drawing upon the Ackland's permanent collection, co-curator Barbara Matilsky says the exhibition serves to "reveal unexpected relationships between different generations of artists," as well as offer a sample of the museum's extensive photographic acquisitions.

Occasionally, the pairings possibly overreach their objective: Julie Moos' "Domestic (Bell and Beebe)"(2001), a vaguely Avedon-esqe studio work, is set alongside selections from Robert Frank's iconic The Americans. While both photographers examine race in American society, the comparison seems somewhat trite since Frank and Moos approach the issue from such divergent perspectives. Such a tenuous thread seems inadequate to bind even a cursory exploration of race in photography. Perhaps it would have been more interesting to compare Frank to Frank; his later work—intensely introspective and relatively unknown—is a rich counterpoint to his Beat era explorations and could illuminate an imaginably more profound photographic dichotomy.

Better is the coupling of Minor White's 1947-1971 Jupiter Portfolio (1975) with "Tree of Life" (1989), produced by husband and wife team Rimma and Valeriy Gerlovin. Acknowledging the works share little in common aesthetically or thematically, the viewer is left to ponder what emotional element connects the photographs. While "Tree of Life" isn't necessarily a brilliant work, in this context it may serve as a springboard toward a more satisfying understanding of White's darkly beautiful and haunting universe.

In terms of revelatory impact, the exhibition's triumph may be uniting Gary Schneider's "Retinas" (1998) with examples of mid-century high-speed strobe photography by stop motion pioneer Harold Edgerton. While Edgerton's fantastic images revel in a delicious kitsch, they appear positively modern compared to Schneider's sepia toned blow-ups of the human retina, which at first glance appear to be proto-ray-o-grams created by some 19th-century cowboy/photon-wrangler. By choosing to give his contemporary studies such antiquated sepia treatment, Schneider invites the viewer to journey to a place where the future of identification technology meets the history of photographic stylization. When considering "Retinas" against Edgerton's space-age retro cool (which precede "Retinas" by four decades), an earnest gallery crawler is apt to become briefly unstuck in time. Such moments expose the degree to which the last century was shaped by popular photography, and forebodes that the medium may be destined to continually recycle itself.

So we learn that what is old is new and what is new is old—again. Witnessing the apparent vitality with which video installations increasingly encroach upon gallery space and how the animated GIF is taking over the Internet, one wonders if still photography will one day seem quaintly static. We might soon be facing a world with disposable video-cereal boxes—let us hope that photography's frozen time-shard isn't completely swamped by techno-whiz bang. As the exhibition notes of Depth of Field suggest, when comparing the grim landscapes of Robert Adams to Richard Misrach's image of environmental mismanagement (or non-management), "photography continues to be the most potent art form for communicating the devastating effects of human activities on nature." What is gleaned in the gallery should inform the eye that navigates our workaday world.

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

INDY Week publishes all kinds of comments, but we don't publish everything.

  • Comments that are not contributing to the conversation will be removed.
  • Comments that include ad hominem attacks will also be removed.
  • Please do not copy and paste the full text of a press release.

Permitted HTML:
  • To create paragraphs in your comment, type <p> at the start of a paragraph and </p> at the end of each paragraph.
  • To create bold text, type <b>bolded text</b> (please note the closing tag, </b>).
  • To create italicized text, type <i>italicized text</i> (please note the closing tag, </i>).
  • Proper web addresses will automatically become links.

Latest in Visual Art

More by Douglas Vuncannon

Facebook Activity

Twitter Activity

Comments

Hello, I got in-touch with Caktus Group and met this week. I believe they are looking at posibilities and are …

by Emily Eve Weinstein on Greta Garbo's extreme close-up, some fond farewells and an erased mural (Visual Art)

I love that they took the sign off the top, it was originally designed not to have a sign.

by Evan Gadow on A novel art hotel concept is coming to a historic downtown Durham building (Visual Art)

Most Read

No recently-read stories.

Visit the archives…

© 2014 Indy Week • 201 W. Main St., Suite 101, Durham, NC 27701 • phone 919-286-1972 • fax 919-286-4274
RSS Feeds | Powered by Foundation