In this remarkable survey of images from the vast and overarching collection of the Museum of Contemporary Photography, the last 150 or so years in the history of photography are spread like a banquet before the viewer. Curator Kristin Taylor has chosen work with passion and care to make this show the success it is, as well as a marvelous tool for anyone wishing to gain photographic literacy.
Taylor has divided the show into sections with thoughtful commentary accompanying each area of concentration. The contrast (and similarity) between the older images and the new is striking. In the portraiture room on the first floor, early analog images by Julia Margaret Cameron and Edward Steichen converse with those by Sally Mann by virtue of their black-and-white essence and romantic tenderness, but the conversation also includes modern color and monochrome portraits by Dawoud Bey (Barack Obama) and Widline Cadet, whose large-scale portrait of two Haitians took my breath away. Perhaps the most beautiful portrait in this gallery is Jess Dugan’s “Jeans” which eloquently says more than any photographed face or figure ever could.
A stunning group of black-and-white images articulately tell the Institute of Design story—the experimentation, purity of line and form that are the hallmarks of the ID. Callahan, Siskind, Crane, Metzker—they’re all here, reminding one of what pure photography is all about. On the third floor, Julie Weber’s beautiful handmade paper embedded with shards and slivers of chromogenic prints is spectacular, and in keeping with the spirit of the ID, as is Abelardo Morell’s wonderfully colored camera obscura print as you enter the museum. These are artists ruled by imagination and craftsmanship.
A single image by Latoya Ruby Frazier, “Fifth Street Tavern and Braddock Hospital,” from her series “Notion of Family,” is heartbreaking in the presence of the bulldozer at work destroying a neighborhood in the name of progress. There is the same sense of dread in two images by Anastasia Samoylova, a treacherous beauty. In “King Tide, South Beach,” shot in black-and-white and strikingly enlarged, and in the colorful “Pink Sidewalk” with its diagonally falling palm trees, both from Samoylova’s “Flood Zone” series, there is a warning, the prescience of a bleak future.
One lovely pairing is a black-and-white image by Michael Schmelling next to a color image by Melissa Ann Pinney. In both, awkward teenagers dance in gymnasiums. The sense of déjà vu is strong because we’ve all been there. And that, after all, is what photography can do. We connect to it through our own memories, through the things we have experienced.
“Beyond the Frame” is at the MoCP, 600 South Michigan, through October 30.