By Julia Champtaloup
By Julia Champtaloup
The digital age has brought us a world of endless images. Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, Tumblr and Flickr give us the capacity to create and produce our own content but also to share and distribute other people’s creative work. Whilst we are overwhelmed by the abundance of visual input bombarding us everyday, we still delight in seeing images in new ways, and in new contexts.
Now, the role of curator has expanded beyond art historians and experts, to include anyone engaged with organising content; photographer, artist, student. Secondhand at Pier 24 Photography in San Francisco presents the work of more than a dozen artists whose practice includes the appropriation of found photographs, to take us on a journey of personalised memory and nostalgia. Secondhand is a unique survey of a now accepted artistic technique with distinctly personal approaches and one off displays. It also reframes the relationships between people and photographs, curator and artist.
Pier 24 Photography is the home of the Pilara Foundation Collection, a private collection that continues to acquire works and host rotating exhibitions that curate works from the collection in combination with loan works from other institutions. Pier 24 is considered to be the largest exhibition space in the world devoted to photography. Its current exhibition covers so much ground in the area of found photography, archives and memory, that one could be overwhelmed; but the thoughtful curation and expansive space make it an exquisite experience.
Pioneering artists Richard Prince, John Baldessari, Larry Sultan and Mike Mandel began sourcing images from popular culture and government archives in the 1970s and 1980s. Removed from their original contexts, some images by these artists are shown, offering a new way for viewers to relate to commonplace imagery.
“I really don’t think imagery should be owned, including my own. If it’s part of our world, it’s like owning words. How can you own words? It’s just stuff to use.” John Baldessari.
Erik Kessels, whose work is featured in several large galleries, has amassed an immense archive of vernacular snapshots and photo albums that he works with in varying and considered ways. In Album Beauty he curates a presentation that suggests universal connections between found images and their personal subject matter.
Viewed through his lens, Kessels’ selections speak to our desire for human stories and memory keepsakes, such as amateur pictures in old family albums and school yearbooks. Oversized images presented on white walls and foam core cutouts fill an entire gallery to enhance their impact. Otherwise anonymous subjects are given a level of icon status with their inflated size, but within the context of still being everyday photography.
In 24 HRS in Photos, Kessels reminds us that we are now consuming shared images mainly online. The photographer too, has a role in this new world of digital creation and output. Kessels printed all the pictures that had been uploaded over the course of 24 hours to Flickr. In the installation, the viewer can visually and physically sift through a mound of the extraordinary volume of photographs shared online. Each image has meaning for the owner perhaps, but as a mound, they all seem anonymous.
The Internet is now a valid and accessible archive of source material for artists. Creating new associations and narratives with existing images offers challenging and unique opportunities for curation in a world of endless unique content. Daniel Gordon’s vibrant still lifes are carefully constructed from ripped and recombined photographs converted into hand built sculptures and then photographed and presented as photographs of still lifes.
Rashid Rana blends thousands of online images of unrest and protests to create a composite protest. Regarded as one of Pakistan’s most important contemporary artists, Rana’s large scale collages are composites of faces of the individuals which then become eclipsed by the totality of the composition. The viewer is drawn in to determine the detail but then stands back to take in an overwhelming sensation of the whole.
Another artist, Viktoria Binschtok, searches Google Street View for scenes of New York. She then produces new photographs in the very locations of the images, presenting the images together. Of course, her photographs are no more authoritative than Google’s and we see that when she presents the images together.
Melissa Catanese’s book Dive Dark Dream Slow is a moving collection of uneasy emotional images. Taken from one person’s collection, she simply re-presented and arranged the images in a book (represented in wall installation) giving each image its own space for contemplation, set within a newly formed narrative.
The works presented in Secondhand resonate in a world where our visual culture is online and easily accessible. But photography itself is changing and the artists presented in this exhibition are in conversation with themselves and their audience, about how those changes are affecting us all.
Today, most of our images are floating in a cloud, yet we still have the desire to hold on to memories and images. Seeing physical prints, large scale, framed and enlarged family albums gives rise to the emotion of our shared past – those precious moments that belonged to someone, if not ourselves. Secondhand brings us interpreted narratives and associations that are perhaps relevant for us all in some way. The works in Secondhand are also reminders of the innumerable interpretations within this endless archive and how vital artists are to discern those interpretations for us.
Secondhand runs throughout May 2015 at Pier 24 Photography in San Francisco.
To visit Pier 24, book online in advance of visiting and arrive at the appointed time. The number of visitors is limited in every two hour slot to ensure the experience is a quiet and relaxed one. Refreshingly, there is no cafe or gift shop. Docents are on hand to give commentary on the exhibition.