The Order of Things
Photography from The Walther Collection
May 17 - September 27, 2015
The Walther Collection presents The Order of Things: Photography from The Walther Collection, a survey exhibition exploring how the organization of photographs into systematic sequences or typologies has affected modern visual culture. The Order of Things investigates the production and uses of serial portraiture, conceptual structures, vernacular imagery, and time-based performance in photography from the 1880s to the present, bringing together works by artists from Europe, Africa, Asia, and North America. The exhibition, curated by Brian Wallis, former Chief Curator at the International Center of Photography in New York, will be on view at The Walther Collection in Neu-Ulm, Germany, beginning May 17, 2015, and will be accompanied by a catalogue published by Steidl/The Walther Collection.
Throughout the modern era, photography has been enlisted to classify the world and its people. Driven by a belief in the scientific objectivity of photographic evidence, the logics utilized to classify photographs-in groups and categories or sequences of identically organized images-also shape our visual consciousness. In the twenty-first-century, new digital technologies and globalization have radically transformed the applications of photography, making the reconsideration of photographic information systems ever more urgent. The Order of Things proposes a political and philosophical basis for understanding recent organizational methods in global photography, examining not only the ambivalent meanings of the documentary photography but also the social conditions of the image in contemporary culture. The first major exhibition to investigate this critical cross-cultural direction in photography, The Order of Things shows the diverse ways that photographers have engaged sequential organizing strategies-or sought to subvert them.
The exhibition's approach upends conventional histories of photography, which until recently have focused primarily on the single photograph and the so-called "decisive moment." The Order of Things looks closely at the widespread uses of the multiple images in sequence. Setting early modernist photographers August Sander and Karl Blossfeldt in dialogue with contemporary international photographers such as J.D. 'Okhai Ojeikere and Ai Weiwei, the exhibition examines how conceptual structures of photography, serial portraiture, and time-based performance have developed around the globe, and questions how these works have influenced and reflected recent cultural practices. Highlights include Richard Avedon's The Family (1976),Nobuyoshi Araki's 101 Works for Robert Frank (Private Diary) (1993), Samuel Fosso's African Spirits(2008), and Zanele Muholi's Faces and Phases (2006-14).
A distinctive feature of The Order of Things is the recognition of the similar critical strategies employed by contemporary photographers throughout the world. Featured photographers and artists include Dieter Appelt (Germany), Nobuyoshi Araki (Japan), Richard Avedon (USA), Bernd and Hilla Becher (Germany), Karl Blossfeldt (Germany), Song Dong (China), Zhang Huan (China), Yoshiyuki Kohei (Japan), Eadweard Muybridge (USA), J.D. 'Okhai Ojeikere (Nigeria), August Sander (Germany), Ed Ruscha (USA), Accra Shepp (USA), and Ai Weiwei (China). These photographers have pursued a subjective and even skeptical approach to the social construction of photographic meaning, which they demonstrate in typological grids, temporal serial sequences, and collected images of specific cultural patterns.
Many of the images in The Order of Things focus on the individual, and on aspects of cultural identity as observed through a sequence or series of portraits. The exhibition includes a compelling selection of vernacular photography from the late-nineteenth and early twentieth century-mug shots, panoramas, and commercial architectural pictures. Referencing the troubled history of pseudo-scientific mug shot archives compiled to demonstrate the legitimacy of phrenology, police work, medical experimentation, citizenship, and the rule of law, these collections vividly demonstrate how the social uses of photography have depended on its temporality, multiplicity, seriality, narrative sequencing, and logical ordering.
Against this tradition, many of the artists in The Order of Things compile counter-archives, posting defiant arguments against the invisible biases of supposedly neutral institutional records. Contemporary revisions of the typological method, pioneered in Germany in the 1920s, are richly illustrated by the contrast between Richard Avedon's 69 portraits of American 1970s-era power brokers in The Family (1976) and Accra Shepp's 42 recent portraits of participants in the New York inequality protests in Occupying Wall Street(2011). From a very different political perspective, Zanele Muholi's Faces and Phases makes prominent her portraits of persecuted South African gay and lesbian individuals, appropriating and inverting the oppressive form of the legal passbook portrait to reinstate the social visibility that those citizens are routinely denied.
The studio portrait is for many artists the initial entry into constructions of identity or self-representation. InThe Order of Things, the generic regimentation of the studio portrait format is the starting point for an ambitious critical dialogue. In Samuel Fosso's early portraits, the artist poses himself in various inventive guises during breaks in his own studio practice. But, in his more recent series, African Spirits, Fosso adopts the role of iconic leaders of the pan-African liberation movement, recreating historic formal portraits of Nelson Mandela, Angela Davis, Patrice Lumumba, Malcolm X, and Muhammad Ali, among others. Fosso's highly theatrical reenactments not only honor those who forged postcolonial struggles but also comment on how their cool styles helped to shape and enforce their political ideals.
Critical to all the artists in The Order of Things is the notion of time, and its passage. A suite of images from the 1880s by Eadweard Muybridge visualizes time through stop-action effect, displaying successions of human movements in a precursor to motion pictures. Later photographers in the exhibition not only record sequences of events in time, but also make time, and its deteriorating effects, their theme. The grids of outmoded industrial structures by Bernd and Hilla Becher catalogue and preserve architectural forms in typologies, just as Ai Weiwei's triptych Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn (1995) records the sequential destruction of a valued cultural artifact. Preservation or veneration of cultural patrimony becomes an expression of national political affiliation.
A preoccupation with time inevitably engages with forms of performance. The record of sequential events through time, as in a diary, or the notation of an act as ephemeral and the mark of breath on a mirror, can be actions with profound effects and meanings. Song Dong's installation Printing on Water (2003), a documentation of the artist repeatedly stamping the word "water" on the Lhasa River in Tibet, has distinct political resonance, evoking the spirituality of the sacred river in the face of ongoing struggles between China and Tibet. In another mode, Nobuyoshi Araki's diaristic 101 Works for Robert Frank (Private Diary) is a notation of aspects of everyday life-including women in erotic poses, still lifes, landscapes, interiors with a cat, and shots of the sky-all reflecting a poetic banality as the artist mourned the death of his wife.
The expansive diversity of works in The Order of Things broadly illustrates significant global developments in contemporary photography, finding precedents in the typological organizations of key historical photographers, while looking forward to the applications of these rational models in twenty-first century image making.
De som der delen
Door RIANNE VAN DIJCK 20 JUNI 2015
Het is een aantrekkelijk idee: orden de wereld in categorieën en systemen en je zou bijna gaan geloven dat het allemaal wel meevalt met de chaos.