An exhibition of work by six photographers will explore the nature of photography by focusing on the medium’s changing issues in a digital age. “Photography: Before & After,” presented by the Lewis Center for the Arts’ Program in Visual Arts at Princeton University, runs September 17 through October 4 at the Lucas Gallery at 185 Nassau Street. An opening reception will be held on September 17 from 5:30 to 7:00 p.m. The exhibition and reception are free and open to the public.
“The photographic process has changed dramatically in recent decades, raising significant issues for artists who work in this medium,” notes Joe Scanlan, Director of the Program in Visual Arts. “Photography: Before & After” will particularly look at the time that goes into setting up a photograph before the “click” of the shutter and the effort that goes into managing the image afterward. The exhibition presents six different case studies of how artists, all with ties to Princeton, negotiate these issues in their work: Princeton alumni Lily Healey and Carlos Jiménez Cahua, post-doctoral fellow Sara Sadri, faculty member Deana Lawson, Hodder Fellow Miko Veldkamp, and Princeton resident Adam Ekberg.
Since its inception, photography has been a means of recording people and events through the controlled exposure of light-sensitive materials. In the mid-nineteenth century it was done on sheets of metal and glass for posterity, as in the Civil War images of Matthew Brady. At the turn of the last century, the camera was used to capture phenomena not visible to the naked eye, as in the motion studies of Eadweard Muybridge. “For most of the twentieth century, photography was refined into the art of the ‘decisive moment’,” explains Scanlan, using the phrase made famous by Henri Cartier-Bresson and the many artists and journalists who came after him.
Judging by the work of many photographers today, digital technologies and methods have largely turned the decisive moment inside out. Digital photography affords artists the ability to see an image as soon as they have taken it and the ability to take hundreds at one time. “The ubiquity of digital photographs has diluted the notion of the artfully captured, rarified image,” contends Scanlan. “At the same time, the ability of everyone to take pictures in every corner of the world has politicized the act of taking a picture at all. Even then, an artist’s memory card might only be the starting point for what they really want to see, something they cannot know until all their files are uploaded and ready to be tweaked in Photoshop. Many artists explicitly question, at this point in history, what actual, printed photographs are for,” says Scanlan.
Carlos Jiménez Cahua graduated in 2008 from Princeton with a degree in chemistry and a certificate from the Program in Visual Arts. His recent photographs are singular, sculptural experiments in photographic cause and effect, with often-humorous consequences. Untitled #93 (2013), involved Cahua parking his car on four carefully placed sheets of photo paper and leaving them exposed to the elements for a week. Untitled #104 (2013) is a digital print of a rocky landscape that is assaulted by an adjacent carpet steamer for the duration of the exhibition.
Adam Ekberg is an artist and graduate of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago who recently moved to the Princeton area. Ekberg’s photographs require the elaborate pre-arrangement of site-specific events that he matter-of-factly captures on camera. A drop in the bucket (2013) depicts the impact of an object in a distant bucket of water with no evidence of rigging or previous misses in sight. His ironically titled Bottlerocket (2007) shows only the smoke trail of the object in question that the photographer has just missed.
Lily Healey is a 2013 Princeton graduate of the Department of Art and Archeology who concentrated in studio art. Healey is mesmerized with the virtual life and mutation of digital image files, elusive “things” that inhabit our devices and get moved around without ever being touched. This otherworldly air is evident in a series of photographs Healey made of trees on campus that she altered in Photoshop. The trees exist as recognizable subjects that have been eerily removed from reality.
Deana Lawson is a full-time lecturer at Princeton and a recent Guggenheim Fellow whose new work entails photographing cities in the American South and the African continent that were previously involved in the slave trade, aided by research funding from the Lewis Center. For Lawson, photographs begin with specific people in specific places but do not become art until after a rigorous editing process. Lawson has agreed to share how she “thinks through” her images as her contribution to the show, including several new, large-format prints.
Sara Sadri was a post-doctoral fellow in the School of Engineering and Applied Science last year, where one of her research photographs won top prize in the School’s “Art of Science” competition cosponsored by the Lewis Center. Trained as a hydro-engineer, the subject of Sadri’s images can take moments or centuries to form the patterns that she captures through her lens. Like Cahua, Sadri is a trained scientist who has chosen the path of full-time artist and moved to Hollywood, where she hopes to make a career as a scientific documentary filmmaker.
Miko Veldkamp is a painter currently living in Amsterdam and a 2014-15 Hodder Fellow, the first studio artist to win this distinguished award. Veldkamp is consumed with digital culture and his paintings are a direct response to its speed and pervasiveness. Veldkamp questions what painting can do in the face of such relentless image production, which he answers by proceeding as if painting can compete with photography as a means to commemorate special moments, as in City Hall (2013), or the everyday, as in Trailer (2012).