Focus on Photography marks the first ever survey of post-1950 works from the Hood Museum of Art's photography collection. In anticipation of and in collaboration with this fall's landmark Modern and Contemporary Art at Dartmouth: Highlights from the Hood Museum of Art, this exhibition will closely examine the museum's modern and contemporary holdings in photography. Focus on Photography maps contemporary trends in the medium, here divided by two basic subject distinctions: portraiture and landscape. Within these two larger groupings, works will be arranged around prevalent themes that have dominated photography in the last fifty years. Bridging these two themes will be a selection of documentary and photojournalist works, representing an important niche in the Hood's collections with images by Dmitri Baltermants, James Nachtwey, Dick Durrance, and Sebastiao Salgado. Whether documenting either tragic or revolutionary events in modern history, or the plight of those unable to speak for themselves, these photographers serve as vital witnesses and their images as crucial testimony to moments that most not be forgotten.
An examination of the changing character of landscape photography in the last half-century reveals a number of trends, most notably an obsession with the clash of man versus nature, abstract conceptions of the natural world around us, and the urban landscape. A fascination with the changing face of our environment emerges as a widespread theme with which many of these artists engage. In crystal clear and brilliant color prints, Joel Sternfeld, Dartmouth Class of 1965, captures images of the American landscape caught in surreal moments: the aftermath of a devastating landslide or a destructive fire that dominates the setting of McLean, Virginia (Pumpkins), December 1978. Stephen Shore's photographs, such as Broad Street, Regina, Saskatchewan, 1974, depict the commonplace scenes of American life, picturing the suburban streets, box stores, and movie theaters that have become our new everyday landscape.
Exploring contemporary trends in portraiture, Focus on Photography concentrates on themes of adolescence, the negotiation of identity through self-portraiture, and the representation of social and cultural identities. Repeatedly photographing the same young girls in upstate New York in her series Treadwell, Andrea Modica creates images that are caught between a dream world and reality; the products are fantastic scenes that hint at a complicated narrative the audience is left to construct. Nikki Lee uses her own body, adopting a particular style, dress, and mannerisms in an effort to integrate into a community, thereby exploring subcultures and ethnic groups, and at the same time, their associated stereotypes. The Ohio Project (8), 1999, depicts Lee in a pink halter-top and rolled jean shorts, defiantly hanging out the door of a trailer. Her clothes and setting mark Lee as an average working-class woman, yet the bleach-blonde tousled hair against her Korean face underscores how an otherwise familiar social identity can seem strange or even comical.
Additionally, Focus on Photography will trace advances in technology, such as digital photography and computer manipulation, photogenics, an extended exposure time, and camera obscura, which drive a number of these artists's work. Even with such developments drastically changing the processes and results of this medium, Focus on Photography underscores how artists working today continue to appropriate or quote traditional subject matters, styles, and methods. Photographer Loretta Lux, who studied as a painter in her native Germany, has been creating what she calls "imaginary portraits" of children with the help of the digital program Adobe PhotoShop. Using the same processes as a painter-a central focus on planning and organizing the composition of color and form-and stylistic qualities reminiscent of Mannerist portraits by Agnolo Bronzino, Lux carefully controls and alters every aspect of the image, spending an average of three months to complete one photograph.
Focus on Photography serves as the forum for premiering a number of important new acquisitions. On exhibit for the first time is Fiona Foley's powerful image HHH #1 (2004), 2004, the Hood's first contemporary photograph by an indigenous Australian. With her striking depiction of a group of hooded figures, Foley tells an alternative history to the stories that figures in such a uniform traditionally do: that of the Hedonistic Honkey Haters, a secret society founded in 1965 in direct opposition to the Ku Klux Klan. This anonymous group becomes a portrait of more than the figures present, but a representation of a particular culture, place, and moment in time that has remained largely untold. Also on display for the first time yet exemplifying a distinctly individual and personalized style of portraiture, is Japanese photographer Hiroh Kikai's An Old Man with a Penetrating Gaze (wearing a face mask), 2001. Kikai's ability to capture his subjects' essential characters with an economy of photographic means is clearly evident as each of his impromptu, black and white street portraits radiates a sense of hard-won individuality.
This exciting exhibition brings together a spectacular array of images representing the diversity of our photography collection on a number of levels: geographically there are artists representing twelve nationalities; chronologically these works span both the twentieth and twenty-first centuries; and stylistically this exhibition comprises a variety of aesthetic and technical movements. Focus on Photography incorporates the most recent additions to the collection as well as images acquired during Walker Evans' stay as the first artist in residence in photography at Dartmouth in 1976. Offering a fresh look at post-19950 photography, Focus on Photography aims to open a year of exhibitions devoted to highlighting our diverse and exceptional modern and contemporary collections.
Last Updated: 10/17/08