PDN Photo of the Day

Exploring Photography and Context

In “re:collection,” a new show at the Museum of Contemporary Photography in Chicago, opening July 13 and on view until October 1, the museum’s archive is a starting point to explore how sequence influences the way images are perceived. More than 70 images from the collection are hung in what the museum calls “a stream of images,” shown without text. As the museum writes, “Like a mind map, one sequence of images begins with one piece, drawing connections to the neighboring photograph… The connections between each photograph can be content-related, touching on topics like war, civil rights, spirituality and landscape; or more subtle, linking images through formal criteria, aesthetics or titles.”

One gallery addresses war and violence, bringing together Christian Patterson’s study of the mark left by a shotgun blast and Rachel Papo’s image of a beautiful Israeli sniper instructor smoking a cigarette. Another features Kei Ito’s 180-foot-long “Sungazing Scroll,” which comprises 108 exposures of the sun made directly on color photographic paper, leaving a trail oscillating black forms that correspond to Ito’s breathing. Ito considers the piece “a meditation on his grandfather’s firsthand account of the 1945 atomic bombing of Hiroshima that he described as ‘hundreds of suns lighting up the sky,'” the museum writes. Nearby, Christina Seely’s “Lux” series examines the environmental impact of light pollution, and Binh Danh’s “chlorophyll prints” use sunlight to make images about the Vietnam War and its environmental and psychological consequences. Together, the works suggest subtle connections between war, nature, light and photography.

As the curators write in an essay for the show, “photography lends itself to a storyboard approach,” but “art’s significance does not reside in the art object alone.” The meaning of a photograph depends not only on its own attributes, but also on the context in which it appears. “The viewer, therefore, is essential to artistic experience.”

Related Stories:
The Art of the Contact Sheet
Photo Editor Mike Davis and Jason Eskenazi on the Art of Sequencing Photos (for PDN subscribers; login required)

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