Updated: Jun 18, 2020
#Documentary | #Visuality | #Curatorial_practices | #Contemporary_art | #FIne_art_photography.
Our timeframes need to be broad when analysing how institutions of photography have created modes of exhibition-making and methods of curatorial practice. The period from 1920 to 1940 is described as the era that brought about the institutionalisation of photography (Sheikh, 2013). The historical background is important to adequately understand why curatorial practices have come to be described as performances and events (Schorch, 2017). Wolfgang Tillmans' influence on young photographers is partly due to his exhibition techniques (Fig 3). The success of the dynamic spaces he produces is attributed to how he devises exhibitions both with and for images (Östlind, 2018 and Davies, 2017).
Another photographer pushing developments in curatorial practice is Heikki Kaski (Fig 1). His exhibition ‘'Vibrate on Silent' (2017) includes transitions evident in the techniques associated with Tillsmanian techniques, in terms of the spatial layout of images in books. It is difficult to understand why there is sometimes such a difference between what is meant by the terms fine-art and contemporary photography. Angie Kordic argues that fine art photography is 'created in accordance with the photographer’s vision, and it manifests an emotion, a personal impression and a unique vision of a subject the artist has a passion for' (Kordic, 2015). About contemporary photography, Östlind argues that it cannot be easily defined because it is so impacted by ongoing developments in the field of the photography. Nonetheless, Geoffrey Koslov does offer a definition of contemporary photography as ‘a rolling and evolving view of photography from a contemporaneous moment in time' (Koslov, 2015). I agree with Östlind’s view that contemporary photography still remains difficult to define because of how the technologies of circulation and distribution that shape a particular time also affects how photographs are made and seen.
In 1973, Jens Jensen made an exhibition at the Fotografiska Museet resembling enlarged pages of a photobook, images were attached to large white paper and laminated to help with moving the exhibition to its next venue. This clearly shows the influence of the book, also evident in Kaski and Tillmans’ work. I think this provided limitations to the portrayal of photographs, since you always had to keep in mind the need to be mobile. Aaron Knochel describes visuality as ‘a central construct of critical thinking in visual culture, assembles social constructions of images that are often invisible to understand the performativity of visual culture in constructing our social worlds’ (Knochel, 2013, p. 13). This is not very different to Glenn Rugga's (2010) description of documentary photography as a tool employed by practitioners to inform people about events they cannot see for themselves. In my view, visuality has is significantly impacted by the circulation of photographs.
As regards the circulation of the viewer, consider the standard adopted by exhibitions to hang photographs in straight horizontal rows on walls painted white or more likely in a specialist photography space a mid-grey (Langford, 2005). Now consider wheelchair users. in such a scenario. The representative overview of the ADA guidelines for wheelchair users provides important data for curating photography because ease of access is necessary (Smitshuijzen, 2007). If considering our culture which values visuality so highly, it means that you are excluded from mainstream experience if you do not see the way others do. The standard is considered 152 to 156 centimeters from the floor to create an eyeline for the exhibited images, which doesn’t allow access to some people, implying a negative view of the wheelchair user. The first figure appears to show the importance of the positioning of elevator buttons. The second figure is showing the appropriate eyeline level for wheelchair users, to make sure the whole audience can see the work. IMMA is well known for having full wheelchair accessibility.
Interestingly, Tillman’s photographs are often deliberately placed too high for wheelchair users to view, showing the Tillsmanian tantalising method of portrayal (Fig 3). The Smithsonian Guidelines state that accessible design is necessary because ‘people with disabilities are a part of the museum’s diverse audience’ (Majewski, 2010, p. 2). I think guidelines that promote equality and diversity are a necessity. The third and fourth figures of the ADA Guidelines show the length and width of the wheelchair because it's important that it can fit in everywhere and have enough space. The last 3 figures show how far the wheelchair user’s arms can reach. When exhibiting work, it’s important to me to know all the guidelines and follow them because then you will have a larger audience and promote equality (Smitshuijzen, 2007).
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Phillipp Schorch. (2017). ‘’Assembling Communities: Curatorial Practices, Material Cultures and Meanings’’ In Onciul, B., Stefano. L., Hawke, S (eds). Engaging Heritage, Engaging Communities. Suffolk: Boydell Press. Pp. 31-46. Available at: https://books.google.ie/books/about/Engaging_Heritage_Engaging_Communities.html?id=N7Q4DwAAQBAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=kp_read_button&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q&f=false
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Fig 1. Kaski, H. (2015). Tranquility. Exhibition Views. Finish Museum of Photography. Viewed 28 March 2020. <http://heikkikaski.com/Exhibition-Views>
Fig 2. Jensen, J. (1973). Boy on the Wall. MoMa. Viewed 28 March 2020. <https://www.hasselbladfoundation.org/wp/portfolio_page/jens-s-jensen-hammarkullen-40-years-later/>
Fig 3 Tillmans, W. (2013). Folding, Refraction, Touch Busch-Reisinger Museum. Viewed 14 April 2020. <https://www.harvardartmuseums.org/article/a-conversation-with-wolfgang-tillmans>