A New Reality: Black-and-White Photography in Contemporary Art

Cat’s Cradle by Janieta Eyre
Sep 01, 2007 - Nov 18, 2007
Voorhees Gallery

This exhibition of approximately 98 photographic works is derived from a major private collection of photography amassed by Anne and Arthur Goldstein, New Jersey residents. A New Reality explores two themes: the continued use of black-and-white photography as a medium of visual and historical consequence, and a growing tendency to exploit photography for an expressive and conceptual range far beyond its traditional role as a simple visual transcription of reality. To that end, over the course of their investigation of modern and contemporary photography, the collectors have increasingly gravitated toward works that reflect inventive and experimental use of photographic processes, or imagery that is unusual, imaginative, unsettling, or provocative.

Chronologically, the collection represents major figures whose work spans the years 1950 to the present. Among the significant photographers with work on view are: Diane Arbus, Richard Avedon, Sherrie Levine, Duane Michals, Vik Muniz, Cindy Sherman, Mike and Doug Starn, William Wegman, and Joel-Peter Witkin. While numerically emphasizing American photographers, the exhibition also includes prominent international photographers, such as Bernd and Hilla Becher (Germany), Laurent Millet (France), Tacita Dean (Great Britain), Hiroshi Sugimoto (Japan), and Mohammad Eslami-Rad (Iran). 

While some of the earlier photographers in the collection were practitioners of “straight” photography (not manipulated through darkroom techniques or otherwise altered), the collectors’ interest in odd or “edgy” subjects is seen in works by, for example, Diane Arbus (who sought out the bizarre aspects of everyday life), Larry Clark (who documented a rough and uninhibited teenage lifestyle), and even the more unusual side of the fashion photographer Richard Avedon (represented here by a photograph in which Andy Warhol displays his scarred, post-operative torso). Moving beyond documentation, technical and physical alterations in photographic process or product yielded new visual possibilites, as in Jerry Uelsmann’s evocative and symbolic multiple exposures or John Baldessari’s fragmented and collaged images. 

Among the most influential and widespread of modern photographic methodologies, once defined as the “directorial mode” and well represented in the exhibition, is the involvement of the photographer not as a mere recorder of events and scenes, but as an overarching creator of the image to be photographed. In a sense, the photographer takes on combined roles analogous to those in the film industry of writer, producer, director, and set designer. An unusual vignette (Laurie Simmons) or a narrative presented through a series of photographs (Duane Michals) is imagined, planned, and carried out by the photographer. At times, photographers used themselves as subjects, actors in a self-reflexive drama or transformative autobiography (Cindy Sherman, Yasumasa Morimuri). Some of these vignettes required enormous technical skill or obsessive acts of accumulation to realize (James Casebere, Vik Muniz).

The exhibition also delves into how photographs have emerged as powerful and flexible carriers of visual information that are suitable for a wide variety of applications in conceptual art. This aspect of photography, in particular, is reflected in the exhibition title’s reference to “photography in contemporary art,” stressing that photography, or image-making itself, is now but one component of a multimedia, multidisciplinary approach that fundamentally affects the intention and creation of much art today. 


Janieta Eyre (Canadian, born Great Britain, 1966)
Cat’s Cradle, 1995
Fiber based selenium toned print [3/3]
Collection Anne and Arthur Goldstein
Courtesy Diane Farris Gallery, Vancouver, BC