Collection 1950s–1970s


Photography and Language



Donna-Lee Phillips. Fragments from a Visual Journal: November 16, 1977 to January 9, 1978. 1977. Gelatin silver print, 8 × 10" (20.3 × 25.4 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Agnes Rindge Claflin Fund. © 2023 Donna-Lee Phillips
  • MoMA, Floor 4, 419 The David Geffen Galleries

“We are soliciting all types of photography in which words and images are joined in a visual presentation,” announced a call for submissions, in 1976, for an exhibition to be organized by artist Lew Thomas. The response was overwhelming, and works by more than 100 artists were presented in San Francisco later that year. Titled Photography and Language, the exhibition and its catalogue are today remembered as a turning point for artists using photography in the Bay Area and elsewhere.

This gallery borrows its title from that project but expands beyond it to include works by artists based throughout the United States and internationally. Many were influenced by Conceptual art and explored the relationship between the medium of photography and the structure of language expression, primarily during the 1970s. Their works use seriality, captions, and narration, among other devices, to probe how a photographic image can produce meaning.

Organized by Lucy Gallun, Curator, Department of Photography, with Kaitlin Booher, Curatorial Assistant, Department of Photography, and Rachel Rosin, Curatorial Assistant, Department of Drawings and Prints and Curatorial Affairs.

23 works online


Installation images

How we identified these works

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