Friday, March 27, 2009

Into the Mystic

[Stephen Shore's photograph of a billboard in Oregon.]

The New York Times' Ken Johnson has a review today of a new show I'm dying to see at MoMA: Into the Sunset: Photography's Image of the American West. He notes that
The time during which white European civilization expanded into and eventually occupied North America coincides with the invention and development of photography. This is not just incidental. The idea of the West would be informed by machine-made images. That the medium itself can be used both for empirical documentation and visionary expression nicely mirrors the exhibition’s subject: the American West is real, but it is also a set of fantasies.
Johnson observes essentially that early photographs in the exhibition portray the hope and openness of the West, but that after World War II, things turn darker as those initial themes become "cliché for the tourism and real estate industries." The contemporary work in the show seems to reflect that with sometimes ironic cynicism. In conclusion he asks
Why does the exhibition project such a dim vision? Is it impossible for serious contemporary photography to see something better? Is failure and disappointment the real, unavoidable story? Or is it another myth, a paradoxically reassuring narrative to which many high-minded people now unthinkingly accede? If so, what would be the alternative?
[To which I answer: Have you not followed this very blog, sir?! For I am living it, somewhere between success and the skid road!]

And also that of course it's another myth, and worse, a predictable narrative for an exhibition such as this one to portray, if that is in fact what it does. But without having seen the show, I don't want to speculate too much – I'll have to re-visit after making the reverse journey to New York before Into the Sunset closes on June 8th.

Click here to read the New York Times review and see a slideshow of images from Into the Sunset, and click here to learn more about the exhibition at MoMA's brand new website.

Elsewhere in photography, James Danziger has been covering the Association of International Photography Art Dealers (AIPAD) show at his blog The Year In Pictures – always worth a look.

Daughter of Migrant Tennessee Coal Miner,
Sacramento, California
, 1936, by Dorothea Lange

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