16 Jan 2010

The Metropolitan Museum of Art - 13 Jan 2010 'Surface Tension'

The Metropolitan can be found in New York on 82nd and 5th on the East side of Central Park about half way up.  It is a grand and imposing building which rightly contains some of the most famous works of art in the world.  I was photographing the Frank Lloyd Wright designed Guggenheim Museum just up the road for future use in 'curves' and decided to pop in to the Met to view their photographic section on the second floor.

Taking  a camera bag into the museum requires a special pass and the bag must be worn on the front when inside!  The interior is as magnificent as the exterior and makes one feel quite insignificant beside such grandeur in both architecture and art.

The most disappointing aspect of the visit was, unfortunately, the photography area.  Consigned to a small area of one corridor it is very limited but does contain some gems.  I had never seen a Daguerreotype image in real life and was amazed by the magical quality that it had.  Being exposed onto silvered glass it has a reflective quality that from many angles looks like a delicately engraved glass mirror.  It isn't until it is viewed from directly ahead that the true image magically becomes clear showing an intricate B&W image in perfect detail.  I was spell bound by its beauty and now understand how the manufacture of such images became so popular in its time.  The photograph on display was by Bennet and titled Siblings.

I was also taken by Felix Teynard's salted paper exposure from a paper negative to see for myself how good such images were.  Having read about Fox Talbot's work in creating the first negative to positive photography, but never having seen one of this type I was impressed with the tones that had been available using this technique.

A name that leapt from the wall at me was of course Diane Arbus.  Her photograph titled Taxicab driver with two passengers told me all I needed to know about her skill in observing the world around her.

I left the historic section to see what was on show in the exhibit called 'Surface Tension'.  This was a special exhibition of modern photography that dealt with images that had been altered by techniques such as the addition of paint and other artistic mediums.

I felt that the more exotic works were beyond my current level so I concentrated on those images that relied more on photographic technique than artistic.

I very much liked the work of Pertti Kekarainen  whose image TILA (Passage 1) was on display.  He photographs architectural spaces and then adds optical illusions in the form of shadows and floating spots of light to complicate the act of seeing.  I found that his ability to balance his photographs and his use of proportions a perfect example of what I am learning to achieve in the framing part of this course.  He doesn't just rest with the dimensions of the spaces but of the colours as well... a very talented photographer.

Andrew Bush's piece was a collection of envelopes similar to those that can be seen using the link.  Such a simple idea but so beautifully lit I had to stand very close before I realised that they were indeed photographs and not the real thing.  Each was individually framed and a little work of art by itself but as a collection I stood and wondered what each had carried.  Messages from loved ones, telegrams bringing the despair of bad news... a clever, thought provoking collection!

Adam Fuss's photograms are well known and are a fascinating way to use such a basic photographic technique.  The image on display was made by allowing snakes to wriggle through talcum power laid on top of light sensitive paper so that the resultant exposure becomes a swirling patten of their random movement.    A huge scale for a photogram, this image was about 6ft by 5ft and an impressive piece.  I wonder, however, of the relevance of this type of work which has parallels with giving monkeys paint to play with and then describing the result as art.  The technique is clever but allowing the random movement of an unthinking beast to create the patterns does not make it art although it does make a very saleable image.

Finally I was intrigued by Miles Coolidge's photograph Accident Investigation.  Seen above it is a composite photograph of a large slab of concrete shown life size.  It is a great image in its own right having a vast size of around 30ft by 10ft and shown in brilliant detail so that every imperfection of the concrete shows up.  The fascinating side story is that this particular portion of the Santa Monica Freeway in LA was the location of an accident and the subject of an investigation.  One looks at the photo with one eye as a detective and the other as an art viewer.

So the Metropolitan provided me with a small but valuable selection of photographs to admire from some of the earliest images ever taken to some very modern and intriguing images.  Worth the visit but a shame there wasn't more that I could have seen.

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