Much of contemporary photography has questioned the very nature of the medium. Recent work has included photographs about photography, and current criticism has focused on photography’s power in the media. This attention has tended to obscure the medium’s fundamental and most rewarding capability: its ability to describe experience. The three photographers included in this exhibition belong to a tradition that adheres to the belief that photography is a picture-making device, and that the photograph is grounded in the artist’s experience of the world.
Eberhard Grames (German, born 1953) is a photo-journalist affiliated with the Bidlerberg Photography Agency in Hamburg, Germany. In 1989, while visiting his childhood home in what was then East Germany, he began a photographic project “to document the time warp of the 1950s preserved there in the buildings, the streets, the cars, and the people.” Using an 8-by-10-inch-format camera to record as much detail as possible, Grames photographed working people as they appeared on the streets amidst the crumbling architecture. His photographs document a culture that will soon disappear. What is extraordinary is that we feel as though we are in another century. We see the evidence of an antiquated technology in old buildings and decrepit pushcarts, and an innocence in the openness and calmness of the people who appear unaware of the potential convolutions of Western media culture. Though these pictures recall works of the nineteenth-century documentarians, they transcend those works through their explicit description of an insular and inbred society.
In 1990 Sheron Rupp (American, born 1943) received a Guggenheim Fellowship in photography, which she used to photograph in small, rural American towns during the summer and fall of that year. She traveled to the isolated and underdeveloped Northeast Kingdom in Vermont and to Appalachian regions in Tennessee and Kentucky. These pictures of the people she met along the way illustrate Rupp’s sympathy with an American population existing outside the version of American contemporary life seen on television and in magazines. Through her sensitivity to the shadings and nuances of human behavior, and her extraordinary photographic intuition, we are given access to the interior lives of perfect strangers.
The photographs by Stephen A. Scheer (American, born 1954) have been selected from several series he began in 1986—landscapes, still-lifes, self-portraits, and portraits of friends. These traditional photographic subjects have been reinterpreted innovatively by Scheer through the use of multiple exposure, with the second exposure often made long after the first. Unlike the work of Grames and Rupp, Scheer’s photographs reflect an artistic self-consciousness. His Self with Yellow Funnel (1988) portrays the photographer as a kind of magician who literally and metaphorically “pulls the strings” behind the work of art. In these photographs, Scheer deploys artifice to embellish the natural world and render it fantastic.
Organized by Susan Kismaric, Curator.
This exhibition is part of the Springs Industries Series on the Art of Photography at The Museum of Modern Art and is generously supported by a grant from Springs Industries, Inc.