Photography Now 2009

juried by Charlotte Cotton

June 13 – July 26, 2009

The open submission process garnered a lively and diverse range of points of view about what, right now, constitutes photographic practice.

The scope of the photographs was a timely reminder to me that photographers continue to address the rapidly changing notion of photography – both by rephrasing the language and processes of analog photography and also by rendering artistic ideas with the new default techniques that digital photography offers us. The final choice of eight photographers hinged on my belief that they each showed a creative sentience for the enduring capacities of photography within a changing technological climate and a time when the gallery wall rather than the magazine page is the focus of much of the most innovative photography today.

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Lacey Terrell, Yijun Liao, and Betsy Seder each find their own routes through the much trammeled terrain of ‘constructed’ photography. In her offSET series, Lacey Terrell uses her role as a Still Photographer on film sets to find pungent, ‘off-camera’, compositions. She subverts the constructed scenes which are geared towards the vantage point of the film camera by focusing to the side of or in opposition to the conventional view. Terrell merges the fiction of the film sets with the unscripted reality of what her camera finds. That heady mix of photographic fact and constructed fiction is also present in Yijun Liao’s Stills from Unseen Films. In this series of one-off ‘scenes’ each image depicts a figure in an interior from films that exist only in Liao’s imagination. Liao composes her photographs and her subjects into pronounced yet ambiguous scenarios. She transfers the exploration for the narrative of the unseen film from her imagination to ours.

Betsy Seder’s series Time and Space Died Yesterday is inspired by Antonioni’s dystopic 1962 film L’Eclisse and the imposing architecture of the mid-twentieth Century Italian Dictator, Benito Mussolini’s Fascistic Italian city, EUR. Seder eloquently rephrases the monochrome language of Antonioni’s film to create sparse and unsettling visions of EUR. In her choice to photograph the least Italianate architecture of the city, Seder opens up the narrative of the work beyond its specific locale to the universal use of architecture within dictatorships and political regimes of the 20th century.

Clint Baclawski’s free-standing lightboxes are, similar to Seder’s imposing black-and-white photographs, a refreshing injection of drama and physicality into architectural photography. Baclawski’s antenna for the moment when a space and the choreography of its inhabitants fuse into a spectacle is sharp. Coupled with the final resolution of his select images into their sculptural form, Baclawski draws out the material spectacle of photography.

Alex Aristei’s diaristic, off-kilter framing of lived moments is both very much within a current vein of contemporary art photography as-well-as an homage to the enduring potential of photography. His style of photography is one that I call ‘waiting for pictures to happen’ – a vocabulary of pictures that are all culled from the permission that a camera gives to look photographically at the world around us. The cumulative effect of a mosaic of Aristei’s photographs is a reminder of the potent visual charge that the medium gives to day to day experiences.

Shane Lavalette and Stacey Tyrell have both created bodies of work that locate a small community within their distinct landscapes. Stacey Tyrell’s gentle photographs of the people and places on the island of Nevis in the West Indies subtly narrates the emotions of a migrant’s return to ‘home’ and the mixed emotions of longing and displacement. In Shane Lavalette’s portrayal of the landscape and inhabitants of a national park in County Clare in Ireland, Lavalette thoughtfully and plainly brings together the beauty and contemporary politics of this rural area. Both photographers update and re-work the language of documentary photography in substantial ways and, in so doing, remind us how photography continues to commemorate the visual legacy of history upon the earth and its communities.

Toshihiro Yashiro’s strange, vibrant photographs were the strongest fusion of photography and performance that I saw in this year’s submissions. His KAITENKAI series (the title blends the Japanese words for revolving and revolution) documents his performances in public and domestic spaces where objects and human participants’ rotate on fixed points and their circular movements captured with long exposures. Yashiro, resplendent in his clown-meets-superhero costumes, appears as the ring master of the KAITENKAI Live! performances. While the history of photography documenting artists’ performances is playfully being referenced in Yashiro’s work, I have literally never seen photographs quite like these. As with all the photographs selected for Photography Now 2009, they are resonant with photography’s past but make their own departure.

– Charlotte Cotton, 2009


Charlotte Cotton is Curator and Head of the Wallis Annenberg Photography Department at Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). Previously, she was Head of Programming at The Photographers’ Gallery in London and Curator of Photographs at the Victoria and Albert Museum (1992 to 2004) and Head of Programming at the Photographers’ Gallery in London (2004-5). She has curated many exhibitions of historical and contemporary photography including, “Imperfect Beauty: The Making of Contemporary Fashion Photographs” (2000), “Out of Japan” (2002), “Stepping In and Out: Contemporary Documentary Photography” (2003) and “Guy Bourdin” (2003). Charlotte is the author and editor of publications such as Imperfect Beauty (2000), Then Things Went Quiet (2003), Guy Bourdin (2003) and The Photograph as Contemporary Art (2005). Currently she is preparing for two touring exhibitions for LACMA for 2009 – “Heavy Light: Recent Photography” and “Video from Japan and New Topographics”.


   Alex Aristei

Clint Baclawski

Shane Lavalette

Yijun Liao

Betsy Seder

Lacey Terrell

Stacy Tyrell

Toshihiro Yashiro