Preview: Faking It – Manipulated Photography Before Photoshop, Metropolitan Museum , NYC

In Art Museum, Black and White Photography, Exhibits on October 15, 2012 at 11:59 am


Grete Stern’s “Dream No. 1: Electrical Appliances for the Home”

An exhibit we have been looking forward to for a couple of years is now opening at the Met. “Faking it” takes on the whole question and validation of manipulated photographs. Is it “real” photography when it is no longer “straight photography” or is it just artistic expression, license , creative artifact … or whatever. The rather pointless philosophical discussion leaves behind an array of important images that can be appreciated for “the thing itself” :

To make sense of it all, you need to understand that Ms. Fineman’s mission is to challenge something that is absent from the show: a different view of photography that prevailed among the intelligentsia for most of the 20th century. That was the idea that a great photograph must be transparently truthful. Canonized eminences of modern photography, from Stieglitz and Weston to Arbus and Winogrand, took the world straight, with no cosmetic or fantastic chaser. What they and their cameras saw was putatively what you got.

But the truthfulness of straight photography came under suspicion in the 1970s, most resoundingly in Susan Sontag’s “On Photography,” which indicted the medium for voyeurism and other crimes. Since then, doubting the capability of any representational system to convey naked truth has become obligatory in academic circles. The advent of digitization and Photoshop-type software has only affirmed the now orthodox conviction that not only does reality elude representation but also that truth itself may be just a misleading chimera.

We are left, then, to wonder. If photography cannot capture truth, what is it good for? Leaving aside the ever-increasing use of imaging technology for identification, surveillance, scientific and medical discovery and so on, what is its special purpose as far as art is concerned? While a good answer to that question does not emerge from this exhibition, it offers much that any new theories must take into account.

Runs through Jan. 27

For more information: The Met

For above referenced NYT Review: New York Times

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