Photography in Dialogue
This year’s FotoFocus Biennial has a theme—Photography in Dialogue—which describes the dialogue between contemporary photography, its history, other media (such as film) and between collaborating artists. Throughout much of the twentieth century, art photography was defined in a purist way: namely, as a documentary image, an aesthetic composition, often having some sort of significant social content. This “modernist” definition of photography held that photography was an art form according to its own discrete standards—that it was different from, say, painting in its ability to document “reality,” to capture time, to reveal “truth.”
Yet even during the twentieth century, photography was deployed in “impure” ways, enlisted in mixed-media art, conceptual art, collage, montage or in seeming imitation of painterly abstraction. Especially with the prevalence of digital manipulation, today such impure practices are more readily accepted. And while some might argue that traditional documentary projects still shape the core of art photography, the boundaries defining the medium—and defining the medium’s history—have been considerably expanded.
The exhibition by Taiyo Onorato and Nico Krebs, The One-Eyed Thief, at the Contemporary Arts Center, might be seen as the starting point for this exploration of photography in dialogue. The Swiss artists’ work delves into a dialogue with modernism itself, dissecting—and imitating, satirizing, celebrating—such icons as modernist buildings, the American road trip, even photography as a quintessentially modern artistic medium. The artists also place their photographs in relation to other art forms: film, sculpture, sound art and installation, fostering a dialogue between media. Not to mention the obvious: the two artists work in collaboration, a most essential dialogue.
Photography’s relation to the moving image—film and video—is explored in two exhibitions. Screenings, which debuted at Paris Photo Los Angeles in April 2014, offers a selection of 12 art films with an eye toward common film and photo themes, such as social documentary, performance, and various formal motifs. Stills offers a complement to Screenings, exploring further the dialogue between the still and the moving image from the perspective of still photography in the work of 13 contemporary artists. With Publisher Nion McEvoy, Chronicle Books, we selected works by Talia Chetrit, Daniel Gustav Cramer, Moyra Davey, Tacita Dean, Roe Ethridge, Robert Frank, Paul Graham, Ryan McGinley, Matthew Porter, Barbara Probst, Taryn Simon, John Stezaker and John Waters.
The legacy of American landscape photography is seen in the exhibition that presents David Benjamin Sherry’s work in dialogue with classic photographs by Ansel Adams, Edward Weston and others, selected by David Sherry and me—artist and curator in dialogue.
Vivian Maier’s street photography of the 1950s–’70s might be seen as a dialogue with urban life, as well as a dialogue with the self: Maier’s self-portraits are leavened with a selection of surreptitious portraits of anonymous women, suggesting for Maier an expanded view of personal identity.
There is of course a greater dialogue between photography and life to be explored. This is emphasized in the placement of the FotoFocus Biennial 2014 in the Art Hub of historic Washington Park in Over-the-Rhine. A special exhibition titled FotoGram@ArtHub features a live Instagram feed depicting FotoFocus-related events occurring simultaneously throughout the city. Visitors are invited to participate in this “self-curating” exhibition by posting pictures at #fotofocus2014.
To engage through photography a dialogue with the world and one another is, in essence, what the FotoFocus Biennial 2014 is meant to encourage.
Curator and Artistic Director
FotoFocus Biennial 2014