where to see the history of photography?

David Trattles

David Trattles shoots in a fairly classic style.

In that vein, a reminder that you have til the end of the week to see Robert Frank’s Americans at SFMOMA. While you’re there, you can check out the Avedon retrospective as well as the double header with Georgia O’Keefe and Ansel Adams. I still have a lot of trouble at retrospective shows with keeping historical context in mind. It’s hard to get excited about Adams, having seen all the derivative work since. Where can I go to see a comprensive chronological history of photography?

I want to see the photo version of an unrealized idea I had for radio which is to play the entire history of music chronologically for an entire week, starting from field recordings of indigenous cultures through various folk music from around the world, to contemporary rock and pop. How great if a museum were to exhibit everything from Daguerre to Shore in one building? It would be a colossal effort, but I would go again and again. As it stands, there seem to be shows of living artists and there seem to be retrospectives but nothing really connecting the two, at least nothing beyond the occasional pairing of giants or contemporaries. The MOMA had a little room at the end of the Frank exhibit showing a few photos from his influences, but nothing extensive.

With a chronological showing, you could change the way people move through a gallery by drawing little colored lines on the walls for viewers to follow from artists to their influences and mentees. I like the idea of a museum as a playground where you run back and forth, where there is a sense of trying to follow clues, literally following a thread on the wall, or find things for yourself. Or this could be done with handheld devices that you can punch the number of an artwork into. It would then show you the numbers of relevent other works. Or, how about this for audience participation – viewers can program their own edited sequence of themed or related photos on the device and upload it into a database where others can download them. The museum curators could then pick one to feature each week. This could work well on the web too. I’d settle for a web version of this if the real thing is too difficult, but I assume that with copyright issues, it’s not something just anyone can decide to put together. Too bad.

Anyhow, I digress. A neat little video you should be sure to see while you’re gorging yourself on black and white photography is Joe Sola’s Studio Visit, which is a part of the Studio Sessions exhibit. He invites visitors to his studio to see a new piece and then… gives them a little surprise. Most of the time when I see a pair of headphones hanging next to a not so captivating video, it feels like an obligation to put on the phones and hear what’s going on, but in this case, it worked perfectly with the presentation. You see strange things going on in the video and cannot wait to hear what’s going on. I was suprised by flat most of the on camera responses were! I wish he hadn’t given them the “do not be alarmed” warning. (Would not doing so count as unethically putting them under undue stress?) You have to see it for yourself, but here is a not so subtle hint:


~ by Jin on August 17, 2009.

2 Responses to “where to see the history of photography?”

  1. It’s been a couple of decades since I was there last (I live in Mexico now), but the MOMA in NY had a pretty impressive collection that went back to the early days of photography and up to the present.

    • I was there in April though and aside from Into the Sunset, a show on the American West, most of the exhibits were paintings, design and architecture. I may have missed something though, since I only had a short day to spend there, but I didn’t see anything near the scope of the history of photo.

      Maybe curatorial styles go in and out of style over the decades. I do wonder if most exhibits were like chronological histories and people became bored.

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