“The Unbearable Lightness: The 1980s, Photographs and Film,” on view at Centre Pompidou in Paris until May 23, collects work from artists working in variety of modes, from documentary to decorative. Look closely, and you can find the roots of a lot of today’s photography, from Florence Paradeis’s staged domestic scenes, which opened doors for photographers working with family, class and history, such as Frances F. Denny (a recent PDN’s 30 winner), to Jean-Paul Goude’s manipulated images of Grace Jones, which he famously revisited with Kim Kardashian in 2014.
One explanation for the resonance might be that the forces shaping photography in the 1980s were amplified by the growth of digital in the following decades. As the museum writes, the decade “gave rise to unprecedented forms closely linked with contemporary technical developments, such as the arrival of high-quality color photography, large formats, and the instantaneousness provided by Polaroid” – all trends that have only gotten bigger. The decade marked a beginning of photography’s acceptance into mainstream art institutions, in France and elsewhere, in connection with a “new generation known as ‘painter-photographers’ [who] turned away from a practice doggedly focused on the specific features of the medium,” writes the museum. That trend has continued today, as artists continue to look for ways to distinguish their prints in a world of ink-jet reproducibility. But not everything made it out of the decade. Writes the museum, “the history of Eighties photography somewhat eludes comprehension even today.”