We live in an age when many people carry at all times a high-powered camera and computer equipped with a phone. We take selfies, slow-motion movies, time-lapse videos, landscape and even panoramic pictures. Then we look through the pictures and edit them on our handheld devices in a way that until very recently could only be done by a professional.
We make our chosen photographs into something we find more desirable, for whatever aesthetic reason. Is it any wonder that we now call into question the validity of many of the images we are seeing online or in the news?
"Beyond Truth: Photography after the Shutter," on view at the Cleveland Museum of Art, explores figurative scenes and portraits in which artists have altered the “truth” through postproduction techniques. Drawn mostly from the museum’s collection with additional works from the Fred and Laura Ruth Bidwell Collection and the Akron Art Museum, the show contains works by 23 artists from around the world.
For the most part, they take on a more artistic bent. Techniques like composite printing, multiple exposures, handwork on negatives and prints, digital capture and manipulation have been used to create images that not only highlight a particular subject, but also help to create a narrative that goes beyond basic portraiture.
If you’re looking for the type of show that flows with one particular style, this is not the exhibit for you. Rather, it offers glimpses into the practices of several different artists that highlight their individual styles and chosen subjects. With each new piece you view, you find yourself working to understand the context of the image and the message or story the artist is seeking to convey.
"Portrait of Q. With Thorns," by Cleveland artist Christopher Pekoc, is a nude portrait of a man made with gelatin silver prints, electrostatic print, thread, paper, brass leaf, ribbon and shellac mounted on muslin. The subject has been collaged and woven into other parts of the composition that are done primarily in black with hints of brass leaf that stand out like gold against the background.
The work has an intense amount of texture, reminiscent of walls in a large city that have been covered and recovered with advertisements or graffiti. The texture coupled with how the different elements are sewn together gives the portrait a level of power and visual depth well beyond the beauty of its subject.
"Isabella" is a digital photographic piece printed with a chromogenic color process. German artist Loretta Lux is known for her portraits of children where she first takes the portrait and erases the background around the subject, then puts in a picture of a quiet setting, in this case a pasture with a big blue partly cloudy sky. She works to erase any part of the background that might interfere with the subject, so the child appears to be part of a dream.
The works are all at once beautiful and unsettling, detailed but clearly manipulated. "Isabella" is one of four of the artist's works on display, and each one tells a story all its own.
"Human Eyes (Corpus: The Humans) Adversarially Evolved Hallucination" is a dye sublimation metal print by American artist Trevor Paglen. This artist investigates how artificial intelligence systems for things like facial recognition and handwriting recognition interact and learn to see, and the social and political impact that “sight” has.
For this work, Paglen created two AI systems. He trained the first to recognize images of humans. He challenged the second to produce an image that contained the least amount of information necessary for the first AI to identify the image as human. This piece is the result of that process.
What’s most striking about the image is how it looks reminiscent of something alive or that was once alive, but that could be either part of a person or some type of animal. Parts of the image look like they may be eyeballs, while other parts look like bits of hair. The painterly watercolor-like texture is blurry and adds to the overwhelmingly disconnected nature of the piece. It makes you wonder how and why a machine would find this image to be reminiscent of a human being.
Technology informs our everyday lives. Photography and photographic processes continue to adapt and change as we become more technologically advanced. This exhibit makes us pause and consider the imagery we see.
It should also help us become more engaged and excited about the future of that interaction, because it is opening new avenues for expression that come into greater focus as they are studied and used by artists.
Contact Anderson Turner at firstname.lastname@example.org.