Triennial of Contemporary
Woodmere Art Museum
9201 Germantown Avenue
Philadelphia, PA 19118
Corner of Germantown Avenue and Bells Mill Road in Chestnut Hill
to right: Jessica Todd Harper Becky with Christopher 2003,
pigmented inkjet print, 32 x 40 inches; Charmaine Caire At Your
Service 2000, pigmented inkjet print, 24 x 20 inches; Ray K.
Metzker, Untitled, 1962, gelatin silver print, 6 x 8 7/8 inches;
images collections and copyright of each artist. Courtesy Woodmere
Art Museum (Metzker courtesy of the Laurence Miller Gallery)
As the first in a projected
series at the Woodmere Art Museum, the Triennial of Contemporary Photography
is not only an attempt to showcase the diverse currents in photography
in the Delaware Valley, but also a purposeful bid to update the museum.
Due to a positive change in their financial circumstances, and with
an impressive wing designed by Venturi, Scott-Brown soon to begin construction,
the Triennial signals a new direction at the Woodmere. Spearheaded by
Curator of Collections, Douglass Paschall, it is a sign that the museum
wants to change it's spots in the new century.
The 7 photographers chosen
for this invitational were selected from an original pool of 150 and
the quality is high. Adding to an already loose thematic, the museum
presented by way of historical preface "The Legacy of Philadelphia
Photography" as a mini-show in the foyer. This included rare and
remarkable photographs from the Woodmere's collection with some by Eakins
and Muybridge. A gorgeous history lesson, the show was something of
a distraction to a triennial already pushing the boundaries in its eclecticism.
Several generations of photographers
were presented in a way that pitted an old guard against newcomers with
a major gap in-between. In fact, the show runs the gamut from modernist
work through American journalistic tradition to the contemporary. Larry
Fink presents confident journalistic style and his paparazzi-like shot
of George Plimpton sitting glum-faced at a table of party people is
carefully placed to form the centerpiece in his section of the show.
Ray K. Metzker follows in the footsteps of Henri Cartier-Bresson and
Walker Evans; his carefully captured plays of light are mostly street
scenes from 1962 and they are delicate, meticulous and a perfect combination
of craft and moodiness. Fink and Metzker form the backbone of the show
and are worth seeing in their own right but they bring nothing "contemporary"
to the table. Indeed, can pictures from 1962 really classify as contemporary?
Leif Skoogfor's photojournalism
from the early seventies is strong work in the Magnum tradition but
it is not contemporary either. The great leap across generations to
Amanda Tinker, Jessica Todd Harper and Trevor Dixon is abrupt and Charmaine
Caire stands out as the only representative born in the fifties. Claire's
work has ironic content and use of the "set-ups" full of objects
and toys from popular culture produced as digital prints. In the context
of the show, her pictures indicate the departure from the classic "realism"
to art photography. The remit here is not "documentation"
but playing with the nature of truth in photographic images complicated
further by digital manipulation.
Harper's large family "snapshots"
seem to comment on class, money and taste and channel portraiture of
the landed gentry of the eighteenth century. It almost seems a red herring
that she inserts extra figures digitally in the manner of Jeff Wall.
This is part of the painterly aesthetic that photography sometimes mimics
these days. Tinker's and Dixon's work seems to be the link connecting
the "masters" and the early experimental work in the hallway
to the present day. Playing with such formalities as focus and scale,
Dixon's pictures are intellectually engaging and strange: images of
half-blurred churches and woods evoke the passing of time generally
and photography's past specifically. They also mark a formal difference
between optical and photographic vision which is a truly contemporary
James Rosenthal is an
artist and critic who lives in Philadelphia