Even as our lives become inundated with photographic images, printed photos are becoming increasingly rare outside galleries or museums. The family photo album has turned in a generation from a nearly ubiquitous household item to a curiosity. A new exhibition at the George Eastman Museum in Rochester looks at work by 35 contemporary photographers who are examining the loss of tangible photographic prints. Titled “A Matter of Memory: Photography as Object in the Digital Age,” the exhibition, on view until January 29, has an ambitious thesis. “Because personal and collective memories are so inextricably intertwined with photographs—the result of the medium’s progressive saturation of everyday life for the past century and a half—this revolutionary change in the production and dissemination of photographic images is altering society’s relationship to memory.”
The exhibition encompasses disparate artists. Some, including Chris McCaw, whose photographic prints are burned during long exposures to the sun, or Adam Fuss, who works without a lens or camera, emphasize the process by which they make their images. Other photographers in the show, including Bertien van Manen, who photographed a framed photo sitting among other keepsakes on a shelf, have made photos of photos. Others explore how the ease of digital copying threatens the preciousness of the photo as keepsake. An image by Diane Meyer, from her series “Time Spent That Might Otherwise Be Forgotten,” shows a traditional, posed portrait of a class of boys and girls, except the faces appear at first to be pixilated. On closer examination, the viewer realizes Meyer has embroidered the photo to obscure the image. The embroidery creates a barrier, and the result is a comment on the limitations of photography as reliable aid to memory.
Works by Taryn Simon, Matthew Brandt, John Chiara, Laura Letinsky, Yola Monakov Stockton and James Welling are also featured in the show. —Holly Stuart Hughes