Judith Joy Ross (American, b. 1946). Untitled from “Portraits at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Washington, D.C.” 1984. Gelatin silver printing-out-paper print, 9 5/8 × 7 11/16″ (24.5 × 19.5 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of Richard O. Rieger

The four photographers represented in this exhibition pursue different goals by means of different strategies. In terms of the conventional vocabulary of photographic criticism, one might consider Ross as a documentarian, Spano as a formal experimenter, Mendoza as a reporter, and Berman as a representative of the tradition that Edward Weston (while photographing green peppers in tin funnels) called straight photography.

Judith Ross’s posed portraits of visitors to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial attempt to describe the emotional states induced by that terrible stone document. Like Dorothea Lange’s portraits of displaced farmers of the thirties, or David Duncan’s of marines of the Korean War, Ross’s subjects are insulated from self-consciousness by the memory or the vision of more important matters. The meanings of these faces are not clearly knowable, but we can think of them as surrogates for the unknowable meanings of the names carved in the wall.

Zeke Berman’s still lifes are fabrications derived from the material of ordinary and intimate experience, reconstituted to satisfy the demands of improvised play, monocular vision, and the special characteristics of photographic description. They are concerned with the pictorial aspect of sculpture and the provisional nature of realistic indication. In the central tradition of still-life art, they aim to establish an unsuspected order in the congregation of unremarkable things.

Michael Spano explores photography’s functional and technical limits with an audacious and high-spirited exuberance that recalls the spirit of European experiment in the twenties. His use of extreme wide-field cameras for subjects in rapid flux, of cameras that produce serial images at predetermined intervals, and of lensless photography in conjunction with camera images suggest new possibilities for the development of a photography with extended narrative potential.

Antonio Mendoza has photographed himself and his family with candor, sympathy, and wit, and without the ponderous self-inflation that vitiates much work in this difficult genre. His joining of text and pictures is based on the understanding that they should not say the same thing, but two distinct, consonant, and complimentary [sic] things that together create a new whole. The fourteen works shown here are selected from the sixty-four in the 1984 portfolio Stories.

Aside from the differences that distinguish their work and ideas, these photographers share the knowledge that photography is not (merely) a system for verifying theories derived from philosophy, or politics, or astrology, nor a quick way of illustrating artistic positions, nor a mirror, or Xerox, or wax impression of unmediated life; but that it is a method of primary learning, a way of reconciling private intuitions with the disinterested possibilities of craft.

John Szarkowski, Director, Department of Photography.

Installation views

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