Thursday, March 18, 2010

In Color: New American Stories from LACMA’s Photography Collection

Copyright Taryn Simon

As part of LACMA's current American Stories show, the photography department has a great little show up, featuring works from the collection. All nine photos are excellent and worth seeing but the standouts in terms of novelty, for me anyway, were Joel Sternfeld's vertical portraits of 80's yuppies. Considering they're portrait orientation, I don't think they are part of the Stranger Passing series but I may be wrong about that. Also included are two from Larry Sultan's The Valley, one of Taryn Simon's The Innocents (above) and one of Andrew Bush's Vector Portraits. It is a nice little show and a great compliment to American Stories.

In Color: New American Stories from LACMA’s Photography Collection
Art of the Americas Building, Plaza Level
February 28–May 23, 2010

Since its invention in the nineteenth century, photography has told stories: stories about family and alienation, joy and adversity, landscapes and cities. Often described as a democratic medium—and now practiced almost universally, with camera phones and similar devices—photography is ideally suited to the depiction of our democratic nation, with all its promise and problems. These nine photographs, selected from LACMA’s Wallis Annenberg Photography Department, begin to suggest the medium’s rich potential for storytelling in our own time. They represent a particular approach to narrative, using scale, chromatic intensity, and sharp resolution to draw the viewer’s attention to precisely arranged details and spatial relationships.

While these artists use new technologies, they also rely on an age-old truism: people respond to people. In nearly every photograph included here, the subjects meet the artist’s (and the viewer’s) gaze. These people assert their identities, but they are not autonomous—as the artists demonstrate by situating individuals in larger contexts suggestive of complex stories.

Joel Sternfeld and Tina Barney portray their subjects in domestic surroundings, surrounded by possessions indicating taste and social status, while Christina Fernandez, Larry Sultan and Taryn Simon show individuals in semi-public, semi-familiar environments: a laundromat, a suburban house being used as the set of an adult film, a dive bar. Andrew Bush and Sharon Lockhart create suggestive episodes with minimal accessories: a man drives his car, a girl holds a rodent. In each case, the photograph—deliberately and inevitably—tells only part of the American story. It is our task to imagine the possible beginnings and endings.

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