“Public, Private, Secret,” the first exhibition in the International Center of Photography’s new space on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, looks at surveillance, public visibility, how photography influences ideas of identity, and how artists have responded to the ubiquity of cameras in our lives. The last adjective in the show’s title may be ironic: The collection of videos and photographs by 50 artists reveal how few secrets we have anymore.
Organized by curator-in-residence Charlotte Cotton with ICP’s Marina Chao and Pauline Vermare, the show includes a real-time feed of images and video posted on social media, and works created by Doug Rickard, Jill Magid and Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin, using the latest surveillance tools. On view until January 8, the exhibition also mixes older images, showing that photography has been intruding into people’s private lives for a long time. It includes old mug shots, a photo by Weegee of men in police custody blocking their faces with their hats, paparazzo Ron Galella’s famous shot of Jackie Onassis running away from him, and an image from Merry Alpern’s “Dirty Windows” series, in which she pointed her camera out her apartment window to photograph people inside the sex club next door. A section of the show examines self-display: A grid of images of attendees at fashion shows, taken by event photographer Patrick McMullan, is exhibited near a video showing pages from Kim Kardashian’s book of selfies.
Most of the exhibition space in ICP’s new home is located in the basement, which is divided by movable walls displaying video monitors as well as photos. For “Public, Private, Secret,” the walls are mirrored so you, too, can see yourself on display.
The show incorporates many photographs about photography, such as Vik Muniz’s recreation of the iconic image of abolitionist Frederick Douglass. As the wall text notes, Douglass believed the new medium of photography could be a tool for anti-slave advocacy and a way to show the humanity of slaves. The Muniz hangs next to Rashid Johnson’s “Self-Portrait with my Hair Parted Like Frederick Douglass” and it faces Lyle Ashton Harris’s “Appunti per l’Afro-Barocco,” a large collage of advertisements, clippings, museum reproductions and other images of black male bodies. Amidst the exhibition’s jumble of old and new, voyeuristic and narcissistic, high and low art, these three large works command attention. They invite us to contemplate photography’s usefulness in self-representation and the formation of cultural identity. —Holly Stuart Hughes