Co-curated by Tim Barber, whose epic Web project tinyvices.com has done much to qualify him as the man with the broadest understanding of contemporary photography, along with the maverick owner of The Hole gallery, Kathy Grayson, Attachments posed substantial questions about the state of the medium in the digital age. Though hardly definitive, this selection of work by nine artists offered us the chance to consider the myriad modus operandi by which artists take pictures, and how photography’s unprecedented accessibility has allowed it to serve a multitude of agendas.
As the exhibition’s title suggests, photography has moved beyond the craft, alchemy, and aesthetic foundations that lie at its core. The cumulative effect of the work in this show reminded us that our relation to pictures has, in fact, shifted from the contemplative gaze of the print to the rapid eye of the jpeg. With the proliferation of blogs, Instagrams, and the ever-more social media, much of what we see is an attachment. But this exhibition indicated how, in such a visual culture, our “attachments” are not simply digital files but emotional and psychological attachments – the images we take and collect as if in careful construction of our own identity.
I trust these curators to have a better sense of the zeitgeist than most, and Attachments suggested some interesting tendencies. There is defiance to the medium, evident in the photomontage strategies of Peter Sutherland, and Kate Steciw, whose misprocessing of digital pictures through alternate technologies approximates something closer to sculpture. Jason Nocito questions the presumptive boundaries between digital and analog photography, making each impersonate the other to dramatic consequence. Multimedia maven and maestro-tweaker Andrew Kuo reins in the digital limitation by color-equalizing zones in his iPhone photos to invoke over-sized pixels or bar graphs. Jessica Eaton invokes formalist processes to conjure the geometry of abstraction to seductive ends.
There is cinematic scope and spectacle in the Bedu series from Jim Mangan, in which he shot a group of friends naked in desert sand dunes. Then there is the modest intimacy in the work of Barber himself. To these eyes, though, the real standouts were Sandy Kim’s massive floor-to-ceiling installation of more than 70 incidental pictures taken from just two rolls of film, fresh with the excesses of youth culture in ways that Larry Clark explored it, but without his characteristic calculation and cruelty. Also Asger Carlsen, who ventures into the veritably taboo zone of distortion photography with disturbing anatomies, ranks amongst the very best in the forlorn lineage of trick photography.