Sidewalk dentistry—from a virtual exhibit of photos that Roy Brophy took in India with the Panasonic GX7
So I was mulling over the changing ways in which we experience and share photography. In my generation (I got into photography seriously in 1980) it was books that were the major means of communication between photographers—that was how you experienced the majority of the important and deliberate work you saw (and books made careers, for art photographers at least). In the 19th century, when methods of reproduction were more limited and expensive, it was mainly through exhibits that people shared and experienced work, which is why photography tended to be parochial in its regional or national development. Now, of course, it's the Internet, and that's proving to have its own advantages. Limitations, too—chiefly, the lack of gatekeepers performing their useful function, and of course the diluting effect of sheer excess. There's great choice in terms of what to look at but not very much shared or common experience. You'll see some number of photographs this week—500, 1,000—but they won't be the same 500 or 1,000 your best friend sees, much less a person halfway around the world. (I sometimes marvel at the fact that two people sitting in a café hunched over their laptop screens might be experiencing completely different online worlds, neither ever visiting any of the sites the other one does.)
This also occurs to me: I used to be completely addicted to photography magazines, but now it's possible I haven't bought a single issue of a single photo magazine at the newsstand in a year or more.
When different media supercede each other, though, the older ones don't go away entirely (I still get LensWork in the mailbox). We still see photographs in all the ways our forebears did—in addition to the new ways. The new displaces the old, but seldom entirely.
It's not crucial to get out to see exhibits in order to see photographs. It's actually no longer necessary to look at photobooks to see photographs, either; that seems stranger to me, since I "grew up" in photography treating books like a lifeline to the pantheon of current and past work, and I still love the experience of concentrating on a good book of pictures.
And, naturally, many of us do see photography exhibits every year. I'm sure some of you see dozens.
All I wanted to suggest is that if you don't commonly see any shows, you should make an effort to see at least one in 2014. The fact that we no longer need to see exhibits might actually make it more important to see at least one. (I have this persistent idea that, when it comes to good things, one is infinitely better than none.) The Web is great for looking at photography. But that doesn't mean you should settle for just the Web.
There are lots of ways to get a show into your itinerary. You might have to work at it. You probably know the venues within easy striking distance of where you are, but don't forget that it still might be necessary to make a deliberate effort to check their exhibit schedules. (For some reason I keep thinking I'll somehow absorb by osmosis whatever's showing at the Milwaukee Art Museum, but it doesn't actually work that way—I have to check.) Visiting large cities for business or pleasure will probably provide an opportunity to see a good show, if you plan.
I think it's also quite possible, but probably seldom done, to make a trip especially to see a specific show. Why not? If there's an artist who's a touchstone to you and an institution is expending the effort and money it takes to put on a major exhibit of their work, it's hardly unreasonable to make a trip just to see it. I can't see flying to Berlin just to see a museum show (because I can't afford to), but how about driving to Detroit or St. Louis? I could do that. And why not? The places you can reach from where you live will be different, of course. But think about it. What's the farthest you'd drive to see a show? What's within that range from where you are?
So how about it—got any plans to see a major show this year?
(Thanks to Duncan Holthausen)
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(To see all the comments, click on the "Comments" link below.)
Featured Comments from:
Jeffrey Goggin: "Psst...your suggestion applies equally to music and concerts, too!"
Dalton: "I moved from NYC to southern California last year, and I've been missing the museum and gallery scene dearly. Fortunately I'm able to make a couple of trips back this year, so I'll do my best to catch up.
"Locally, there's a John Pfahl exhibition opening up nearby in November. I'm looking forward to that one; he's one of my favorite photographers.
"One tool I recommend for those visiting NYC is the Collector Daily website. The Checklist page is a great way to plan a day of gallery and museum hopping. Slight disclaimer: I built the website for the author, who has been cataloging photography exhibitions in NYC for many years."
Carlos Quijano: "I was very lucky last February: I saw 'Genesis' (Sebastiao Salgado) in Madrid, Spain. Beautiful black-and-white photographs, many of them very large! I was in a work travel. I would love to see the one of Cartier-Bresson in Paris...."
Mike (partial comment): "Putting it plainly—there ain't nuthin' like 'live,' whether it's photos, or music, or your favorite sport. [...] Sure, I can inspect an image on my monitor, but I really like to put my nose up to the print, look at it from the side, see what the paper looks like. It's real."
Martin G. van Drunen: "I'm very lucky. The Art Institute of Chicago is a 25-minute drive from my house. It seems The Art Institute always has a photography exhibit of some kind happening. Some I like, some not so much. But the accessibility is wonderful. The exhibit that most amazed me was 'Regarding Heroes' by Yousuf Karsh which was at the Art Institute in 2009. Seeing those very large prints was a sobering experience that could not be duplicated in a book or online. You're right Mike...it's worth the effort to see a show!"
Stan B.: "Can't tell ya how many times I've seen a 'mediocre' image online, only to be completely blown over when I finally get to experience it in person—night and day. Of course, that's not to say every bad image online will look great in person—they usually look that much worse. But there are certain photographs that are of a much more subtle and nuanced nature, and they need to be experienced live in order to shine and be seen at all...."
Paul Amyes: "It all depends upon where you live. I live in regional Western Australia and there is no chance of seeing any photography exhibitions. Perth the state capital isn't particulary known for its art scene and so the galleries don't show marginal art disciples such as photography. In fact they play it so safe they that you don't need to see a program—they've been doing the same old thing every year for the last 25 years.
"We had FotoFreo, a biennial photo festival that was great, and while that was on I used to get my fix there making the pilgrimage to Fremantle. Now nothing. Books are the next best thing, but the two bookshops in Perth that stocked photo anthologies have shut pending relocation. Whether they do reopen is anyone's guess. I have bought plenty of books from online sellers, but buying sight unseen does mean you get quite a percentage of lemons, so I've curtailed my book buying of late. So in the short term the internet is all there is. Something is better than nothing. But in the medium term we are moving from the cultural desert of Western Australia to the more fertile ground of Hobart in Tasmania. Then I hope to indulge my exhibition habits to the max."
Pak-Ming Wan: "This post makes me feel rather guilty. I live in Paris and I don't go and see shows as much or as often as I should. I did make Salgado's and Cartier-Bresson's exhibitions this year, though, so 2014 looks promising! But yes, yes, I should reach out to my photo friends and try a little harder. I really have no excuse (especially since I enjoy it so much)."