October 8, 2014

Seven Artists, Filmmakers and Scholars to Share their Perspectives on Photography

Seven artists, filmmakers and scholars will discuss aspects of the photographic medium’s changing issues in a digital age in “Photography: Before & After” Artist Lecture Series. Presented by the Lewis Center for the Arts’ Program in Visual Arts and the Program in American Studies at Princeton University, the series is based on a recent exhibition at the Center’s Lucas Gallery. The lectures will be presented on October 9 through November 17 on the Princeton campus. The series is free and open to the public.

The series is organized by Joe Scanlan, Director of the Program in Visual Arts at the Lewis Center and Judith Ferszt, Manager of the Program in American Studies. The artists speaking include: Laura Letinsky on October 9; Arthur Ou on October 16; Deana Lawson on October 22; Lisa Oppenheim on November 6; Jeff Whetstone on November 13, all at 12:30 p.m. in the James M. Stewart ’32 Theater at 185 Nassau Street; and film director Dyanna Taylor on “Dorothea Lange: Grab a Hunk of Lightning” on November 16 at 4:30 p.m., and scholar Richard Street on “Photographer’s Double/Searching for Cover” on November 17 at 4:30 p.m., both in McCormick Hall, Room 101 on the Princeton campus.

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.

Laura Letinsky is best known for her still lifes, and much of her work alludes to human presence without including any actual figures. Letinsky’s work has been exhibited and is in museum collections throughout North America and Europe including at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, Art Institute of Chicago, Nederlands Foto Institute, and Hermes Collection in Paris. She is a professor at the University of Chicago’s Department of Visual Arts.

In addition to pure photography, Arthur Ou works in sculpture and installation, deploying elements of photography within these different contexts to elicit questions concerning genre. Ou has exhibited internationally, most recently at LAXART in Los Angeles and IT Park Gallery in Taipei. He is currently the Director of B.F.A. Program in Photography and an Assistant Professor in the School of Art, Media, and Technology at Parsons the New School for Design.

Deana Lawson’s photographs are inspired by the materiality and expression of black cultures globally. Her works negotiate knowledge of selfhood through a corporeal dimension, examining the body’s ability to channel personal and social histories. Her practice also subtly contests the suppression of Black visual epistemologies and acknowledges the vitality of lives abandoned by the dominant social order. Lawson’s work has exhibited in at the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Helen Bailly Gallery in Paris, and has had her work published in Time magazine and The New Yorker. She is currently a Lecturer in Photography at the Lewis Center.

Lisa Oppenheim creates experimental films and photograms (photographs made without a camera) in order to call into question the premises behind the documentary genre. Much of her work plays on the idea that one’s understanding of the world is partial, that photography can only represent the world, and that the documentary genre is ultimately fraught with uncertainty. Oppenheim has exhibited internationally at venues such as the New Museum in New York City, the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao in Spain, and the Royal Academy of Arts in London.

Originally a student of zoology, Jeff Whetstone’s work focuses on the relationship between humans and their environment. Whetstone received the prestigious Sakier Prize for photography in 2001. Since then, his work has been exhibited internationally and received reviews in publications such as The Village Voice, New York Times, New Yorker magazine, and the Los Angeles Times. Whetstone is currently a professor in the Art Department of the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill.

Dyanna Taylor is a five-time Emmy award-winning photographer and cinematographer whose prominent career in documentaries and features has also earned her a Peabody Award and the Muse Lifetime Achievement Award for Outstanding Vision and Achievement in Cinematography from New York Women in Film in Television. She has traveled the world as photographer and director of films, documentaries, and television specials on social issues and environmental concerns. Recently, she was Second Unit Director of Photography for the Disney feature McFarland, scheduled for release in fall of 2014, and is currently shooting Sleep for National Geographic.

Richard Street is a historian of photography, labor, California, and the American West, focusing on farm labor and its attendant issues. He has received several California journalism and photojournalism prizes in addition to numerous academic awards. Street is currently completing a memoir entitled Photographer’s Double: An Independent Historian Adrift in the California Agro-Industry at Millenium’s End and is presently the Fall 2014 Anschutz Distinguished Fellow in the American Studies Program at Princeton University.

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