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Photography

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The Bowery in two inadequate descriptive systems

In The Bowery in two inadequate descriptive systems (1974–1975) Martha Rosler bridged the concerns of conceptual art with those of political documentary. The work, a series of twenty-one black-and-white photographs, twenty-four text panels and three blank panels, embraces the codes of the photo-text experiments of the late 1960s and applies them to the social reality of New York’s Lower East Side. The prevailing critical view of The Bowery focuses on its implicit rejection, or critique, of established modes of documentary. In this illustrated, extended essay on the work by Rosler, Steve Edwards argues that although the critical attitude towards documentary is an important dimension of the piece, it does not exhaust the meaning of the project.

Edwards situates the work in relation to debates and practices of the period, especially conceptual art and the emergence of the photo-text paradigm exemplified by the work of Robert Smithson, Bernd and Hilla Becher, Hans Haacke, Victor Burgin, and the Women and Work group. In particular, he contextualizes Rosler’s work of this period within the politicized San Diego group (which included, in addition to Rosler, Allan Sekula, Fred Lonidier, and Philip Steinmetz). Comparing The Bowery to Rosler’s later video vital statistics of a citizen, simply obtained (1977) and the films of the Dziga-Vertov Group (formed by Jean-Luc Godard and Jean-Pierre Gorin), Edwards shows how the work engages with conceptual art and the neo-avant-garde of the 1960s and 1970s.

Camouflage, Photography, and the Media of Reconnaissance

Camouflage is an adaptive logic of escape from photographic representation. In Hide and Seek, Hanna Rose Shell traces the evolution of camouflage as it developed in counterpoint to technological advances in photography, innovations in warfare, and as-yet-unsolved mysteries of natural history. Today camouflage is commonly thought of as a textile pattern of interlocking greens and browns. But in Hide and Seek it reveals itself to be much more--a set of institutional structures, mixed-media art practices, and permutations of subjectivity, that emerged over the course of the twentieth century in environments increasingly mediated by photographic and cinematic intervention.

Through a series of fascinating case studies, Shell uncovers three conceptually linked species of photographic camouflage--the static, the serial, and the dynamic--and shows how each not only reflects the type of photographic reconnaissance it was meant to counter, but also contains aspects of the previously developed species. Hide and Seek develops its argument from the material forms camouflage has left behind: photomontages, paper blankets, stuffed rabbits, ghillie suits, and instructional films. Beginning with natural history and figurative art in the late nineteenth-century, continuing through the rise of aerial warfare in World War I, and onto the cinematic techniques designed to train snipers and civilians during World War II, this book is both a history and a theory of the drive to hide in plain sight.

Reflections on Roland Barthes's Camera Lucida

Roland Barthes’s 1980 book Camera Lucida is perhaps the most influential book ever published on photography. The terms studium and punctum, coined by Barthes for two different ways of responding to photographs, are part of the standard lexicon for discussions of photography; Barthes’s understanding of photographic time and the relationship he forges between photography and death have been invoked countless times in photographic discourse; and the current interest in vernacular photographs and the ubiquity of subjective, even novelistic, ways of writing about photography both owe something to Barthes. Photography Degree Zero, the first anthology of writings on  Camera Lucida, goes beyond the usual critical orthodoxies to offer a range of perspectives on Barthes’s important book.

Photography Degree Zero (the title links Barthes’s first book, Writing Degree Zero, to his last, Camera Lucida) includes essays written soon after Barthes’s book appeared as well as more recent rereadings of it, some previously unpublished. The variety of perspectives included in Photography Degree Zero, and the focus on Camera Lucida in the context of photography rather than literature or philosophy, servetoreopen a vital conversation on Barthes’s influential work.

Picture for Women

Jeff Wall's Picture for Women (1979) marks the transition of photography as an art form from the printed page to the gallery wall. Before this, photographs—from the orthodox photographic work of Walker Evans to the Conceptual photography of Dan Graham—seemed intended for the page even when hung in a gallery. In Picture for Women, a woman looks outward, as if at the viewer; a camera occupies the center of the photograph; the photographer stands on the right. Modeled on Manet's famous painting Un Bar aux Folies-Bergère, in which a barmaid seems to look directly out of the painting, observed by a man on the right, Picture for Women establishes its own art historical genealogy, claiming its rightful position within the canon. Wall's photograph is an ambitious attempt to relate the artistic and spectatorial demands of the late 1970s to a modernist pictorial art that had been too hastily rejected by Conceptualism.

In this illustrated study, David Campany offers an account of Wall's move from a Conceptual approach to a reengagement with the idea of a singular (as opposed to serial) picture. He shows that Wall's decision to present his work as a large-scale back-lit transparency, together with his commitment to a singular image, amounted to a radical departure. He contrasts Wall’s idea of the photograph as a tableau or "picture," inherited from the history of painting, with the works of the "Pictures Generation"—including Richard Prince, Cindy Sherman, and Jack Goldstein—and argues that Picture for Women is inseparable from the modern fate of the picture in general.

Photography and Related Practices, 1970s to the Present

When recession-plagued New York City abandoned its industrial base in the 1970s, performance artists, photographers, and filmmakers found their own mixed uses for the city's run-down lofts, abandoned piers, vacant lots, and deserted streets. Gordon Matta-Clark turned a sanitation pier into the celebrated work Day's End and Betsy Sussler filmed its making; the photographic team Shunk-Kender shot a vast series of images of Willoughby Sharp's Projects: Pier 18 (which included work by Vito Acconci, Mel Bochner, Dan Graham, Matta-Clark, and William Wegman, among others); and Cindy Sherman staged some of her Untitled Film Stills on the streets of Lower Manhattan. Mixed Use, Manhattan documents and illustrates these projects as well as more recent work by artists who continue to engage with the city's public, underground, and improvised spaces.

The book (which accompanies a major exhibition) focuses on several important photographic series: Peter Hujar's 1976 nighttime photographs of Manhattan's West Side; Alvin Baltrop's Hudson River pier photographs from 1975-1985, most of which have never before been shown or published; David Wojnarowicz's Rimbaud in New York (1978-1979), the first of Wojnarowicz's works to be published; and several of Zoe Leonard's photographic projects from the late 1990s on. The book includes 70 color and 130 black-and-white images, a chronology of the policy decisions and developments that altered the face of New York City from 1950 to the present; an autobiographical story by David Wojnarowicz; and essays by Johanna Burton, Lytle Shaw, Juan Suarez, and the exhibition's curators, Lynne Cooke and Douglas Crimp.

This book offers a guide to some of the rarest birds in existence, with maps that show where to find them. Focusing on fifty captivating stories of the very rare, it describes remarkable discoveries of species not seen for centuries and brought back from the brink of extinction, successes like the Seychelles Magpie-Robin and the California Condor. The book is organized around key groups of species, with each species the subject of its own mini-chapter; we learn about the five most amazing tales of island endemics, the five most bizarre cases of a bird's becoming threatened, and other astonishing tales of bird life.

Atlas of Rare Birds is an accessible, readable, and visually appealing take on the serious subject of threatened birds and possible extinctions—a timely topic because of increasing concerns about climate change and habitat destruction. The atlas format—featuring 200 color photographs and 61 color maps—shows the global nature of the problem and brings together the many strands of the concerted bird conservation effort taking place on every continent.

Atlas of Rare Birds is published in association with BirdLife International, the world's largest global alliance of bird conservation organizations.

Modern-Day Arks

All life depends on plants, but we often take them for granted in our everyday lives. It is easy to ignore the fact that we are facing a crisis: scientists estimate that one third of all flowering plant species are threatened with extinction. This lavishly illustrated volume considers the essential conservation role of botanic gardens, telling the story of how a global network is working to save our botanical heritage. Chapters feature gardens from countries around the world, including the United Kingdom, the United States, Australia, Germany, Turkey, Uganda, South Africa, Mexico, Brazil, and China.

Comments and photographs from the gardeners involved give the book a personal touch, revealing the human side of the important work that goes on behind the scenes of these spectacular gardens. Author Sara Oldfield shows us how botanic gardens are truly "modern-day arks," safeguarding species and saving resources on which we may someday depend.

"Our job is to tell stories we have heard and to bear witness to what we have seen. The science was already there when we started in 2004, but we wanted to emphasize the human dimension, especially for those most vulnerable."
Guy-Pierre Chomette, Collectif Argos

We have all seen photographs of neighborhoods wrecked and abandoned after a hurricane, of dry, cracked terrain that was once fertile farmland, of islands wiped out by a tsunami. But what happens to the people who live in these areas? According to the United Nations, some 150 million people will become climate refugees by 2050. The journalists and photographers of Collectif Argos have spent four years seeking out the first wave of people displaced by the consequences of climate change. Using the massive 2,500-page report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) as their guide, these photographers and writers pinpointed nine locales around the world in which global warming has had a measureable impact. In Climate Refugees, they take us to these places—from the dust bowl that was once Lake Chad to the melting permafrost in Alaska—offering a first-hand look in words and photographs at the devastating effects of rising global temperatures on the daily lives of ordinary people.

Climate Refugees shows us damage wrought to homes and livelihoods by rapid warming near the Arctic; rising sea levels that threaten the island nations of Tuvulu, the Maldives, and Halligen; farmers displaced by the desert's advance in Chad and China; floods that wash away life in Bangladesh; and Hurricane Katrina evacuees in shelters far away from their New Orleans neighborhoods. Added to the devastating environmental effect of climate change is the immeasurable and irretrievable loss of ethnic and cultural diversity that occurs when vulnerable local cultures disperse. It is this often forgotten and tragic consequence of global warming that Collectif Argos painstakingly documents.

Collectif Argos
Guy-Pierre Chomette
Guillaume Collanges
Hélène David
Jérômine Derigny
Cédric Faimali
Donatien Garnier
Eléonore Henry de Frahan
Aude Raux
Laurent Weyl
Jacques Windenberger

Created in 2001, Collectif Argos brings together ten journalists—photographers and writers—who share a commitment to documenting the changes taking place in the world—ecological, economic, political, and cultural, subtle or spectacular, global or local.

The Metamorphosis of Plants, published in 1790, was Goethe’s first major attempt to describe what he called in a letter to a friend “the truth about the how of the organism.” Inspired by the diversity of flora he found on a journey to Italy, Goethe sought a unity of form in diverse structures. He came to see in the leaf the germ of a plant’s metamorphosis--“the true Proteus who can hide or reveal himself in all vegetal forms”--from the root and stem leaves to the calyx and corolla, to pistil and stamens. With this short book--123 numbered paragraphs, in the manner of the great botanist Linnaeus--Goethe aimed to tell the story of botanical forms in process, to present, in effect, a motion picture of the metamorphosis of plants. This MIT Press edition of The Metamorphosis of Plants illustrates Goethe’s text (in an English translation by Douglas Miller) with a series of stunning and starkly beautiful color photographs as well as numerous line drawings. It is the most completely and colorfully illustrated edition of Goethe’s book ever published. It demonstrates vividly Goethe’s ideas of transformation and interdependence, as well as the systematic use of imagination in scientific research---which influenced thinkers ranging from Darwin to Thoreau and has much to teach us today about our relationship with nature.

Inside the Closed World of State Mental Hospitals

For more than half the nation’s history, vast mental hospitals were a prominent feature of the American landscape. From the mid-nineteenth century to the early twentieth, over 250 institutions for the insane were built throughout the United States; by 1948, they housed more than a half million patients. The blueprint for these hospitals was set by Pennsylvania hospital superintendant Thomas Story Kirkbride: a central administration building flanked symmetrically by pavilions and surrounded by lavish grounds with pastoral vistas. Kirkbride and others believed that well-designed buildings and grounds, a peaceful environment, a regimen of fresh air, and places for work, exercise, and cultural activities would heal mental illness. But in the second half of the twentieth century, after the introduction of psychotropic drugs and policy shifts toward community-based care, patient populations declined dramatically, leaving many of these beautiful, massive buildings--and the patients who lived in them--neglected and abandoned.

Architect and photographer Christopher Payne spent six years documenting the decay of state mental hospitals like these, visiting seventy institutions in thirty states. Through his lens we see splendid, palatial exteriors (some designed by such prominent architects as H. H. Richardson and Samuel Sloan) and crumbling interiors--chairs stacked against walls with peeling paint in a grand hallway; brightly colored toothbrushes still hanging on a rack; stacks of suitcases, never packed for the trip home. Accompanying Payne’s striking and powerful photographs is an essay by Oliver Sacks (who described his own experience working at a state mental hospital in his book Awakenings). Sacks pays tribute to Payne’s photographs and to the lives once lived in these places, “where one could be both mad and safe.”

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