New Photography at The Museum of Modern Art is an annual exhibition for emerging or lesser known photographers making individual contributions to further the medium. The show has taken place since 1985, and holds an impressive alumni including Phillip Lorca Dicorcia, Thomas Roma, and Thomas Demand, among others. The curatorial duties of this exhibition shift from year to year. This year the show was curated by Eva Respini (Assistant Curator, Department of Photography), who I was lucky enough to meet with to look at the show.
This year's exhibition includes the work of Berni Searle, Tanyth Berkeley and Scott McFarland. With these three photographers, Respini has highlighted with great depth the diversity in content and approach being explored in contemporary photography.
Berni Searle (born in South Africa in 1964), has been widely exhibited in her native country, but has had little to no exposure in the United States. She received her MFA from Capetown in 1995. Exhibited in the show are two recent projects, including Approach from 2006, and works from About to Forget from 2005.
Searle works in a very personal manner, but her photographs have universal appeal. Approach, for example, is a seven paneled self portrait of Searle walking over mounds of grape skins. The photograph depicts a contemplative, inward journey while referencing larger political overtones. The grape skins, her bare feet, and stained dress all allude to the wine making process and the political framework that surrounds it. Searle portrays herself, alludes to the political climate of her country, and appeals to the broader human experience in just this one piece.
Tanyth Berkely (American, b. 1969) works in and around New York. She received her MFA from Columbia in 2004, and is represented by the Bellwether Gallery. Eva has watched Tanyth's work steadily pick up momentum over the past few years. There are two series of Berkely's works represented in the show, Orchidaceae from 2004, and a newer series from 2006-07.
Berkely's newer works were the most interesting to me. They are all life sized standing portraits of people in their homes. The subjects are people Berkely has met and developed close relationships with through the intimate process of photographing them. Many of her subjects are originally strangers she meets in public. She builds a strong rapport with her subjects through her collaborative process of portraiture. The size and scale of these images give them a palpable confrontational feeling. They feel odd; lifelike from far away, and slightly smaller than life-like up close. This feeling of confrontation is heightened by the idiosyncratic appeal of her subjects. Her subjects include performers, transsexuals, albinos, as well as her muse, a young Vasser student named Ariel she met on the train. These people are true individuals in the same way that Arbus's subjects were individuals. Confronted with near life sized portraits of this non-traditional beauty, the viewer feels uncomfortable, yet intrigued to explore the images further. In Berkely's psychological portraits, the viewer can see an intense dialogue with painting with acute attention paid to color, light, and tone; which is further enhanced by the matte surface of the prints.
Scott McFarland (Canadian, b. 1975) works in and around Vancouver. He received his BFA from The University of British Columbia in 1997 and is represented by Monte Clark Galery and Regen Projects. McFarland shoots large format film, drum scans it and creates digital composite images of multiple (sometimes hundreds) of negatives.
Using this composite process, McFarland photographs artificial landscapes man-made to look naturalistic. He uses multiple exposures of the same place to convey a passing of time. In Orchard View With the Effects of Seasons (Variation #1) 2003-06 plants and tress are seen blooming and fading in the large scale (roughly 3"x8") panoramic of a park. With this scale, the viewer can look into the exquisite details of the print.
The digital composite process mirrors the places photographed by McFarland. Both are naturalistic, yet artificially created realities. His process is also an analysis on the nature of photographs. Photographs have always represented distilled moments in time, but what is a photograph made up of hundreds of unique, but related moments? The representation of time now folds into many specific instances marking the passage of time almost cinematically.
New Photography 2007 will be on view through January 1, 2008 at The Museum of Modern Art
Images From Top to Bottom:
Berni Searle, Approach
Tanyth Berkely, Ariel
Scott McFarland, Orchard View With the Effects of Seasons (Variation #1) 2003-06
All Images © The Artists