Curating a high-profile show for the New York Photo Festival has been a “nailbiting” experience for Lesley Martin, not least because of the huge scale of some of the work she has chosen to exhibit.
“I’m used to working to make things small and flat,” says Martin, book publisher at the Aperture Foundation, “so I was very excited by the space.”
And indeed Martin has made the most of 76 Front Street, creating a “gigantic” 44ft x 10ft installation of 6x4 prints of sunsets downloaded from Flickr by artist Penelope Umbrico, whose work with found photographs typifies a widespread fascination with this oeuvre that Martin wanted to draw attention to with this show.
Joachim Schmid - Statics (women's fashion catalogue)
The Ubiquitous Photograph was borne of a desire to acknowledge the frequency with which artist are using processes of rephotographing, appropriating images from different genres or modifying found photographs as strategies for dealing with the glut of imagery that seeps into our consciousness from every direction. Martin has sought to bring together artists whose work is an expression of the new visual literacy with which everyone is having to familiarise themselves.
“The internet has obviously been a major factor in presenting us with this multitude of images,”acknowledges Martin. “It’s also interesting to think about how digital photography is changing what we leave behind. What will take the place of the experience of the flea market? In 20 years time, will be picking up smart cards? Our repositories for collecting things are changing – Flickr is the perfect example of this phenomenon – and that is also a motivation for this exhibition.”
The “grand master of the genre”, according to Martin, is Joachim Schmid, who set up the Institute for the Reprocessing of Used Photographs as far back as 1990. He memorably invited German citizens to participate in donations to the Institute, warning of the dangers of too many photograph, which “in such quantities increase visual pollution and undermine our thinking power—to say nothing of the moral dangers they pose for our children.” One imagines his tongue was pointing in the general direction of his cheek, but his purpose was at the same time serious.
Curtis Mann - Remains of a Home
Martin has also hunted down the most contemporary work in this exciting genre, in the shape of Curtis Mann’s found photographs, which he then bleaches and distorts until something at once alien and familiar is created. A late addition to the show is the intriguing-sounding work of Hank Willis Thomas, who has been exploring the commodification of Black African American identity by removing the text from advertising images. The viewer is then invited to consider the relation of a watermelon to kitty litter at their leisure.
To bring the show’s concept directly to the audience, another exhibiting artist, Harrell Fletcher, will be greeting visitors, and talking to them about the personal photographs they carry around with them. He will then scan them, print them to a huge 30x40 and turn these precious mementos into a live exhibit. “Family portrait are such a cliché,” says Martin, “but really dear at the same time. They matter to everyone, but they are so rarely a consideration in the world of professional photography.”
You may want to start editing your wallet/handbag/mobile now.
Harell Fletcher - Wallet Photographs
Lesley Martin was speaking to Max Houghton.
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