The Camera Always Lies

Second Regional Triennial of the Photographic Arts

curated by Beth E. Wilson

June 14 – August 17, 2008

The true modern primitivism is not to regard the image as a real thing; photographic images are hardly that real. Instead, reality has come to seem more and more like what we are shown by cameras.
–Susan Sontag, On Photography

The Camera Always Lies takes as its starting point a contrary idea: that despite its apparent directness, photography (like all forms of representation) collapses reality in ways that inevitably shape our experience of the world as it is perceived through that medium—and beyond it, as well. Perhaps the verb ‘lies’ is a bit extreme. I will admit to using it in the title of the exhibition as something of a provocation, calling into question what might be considered the assumed role of photography as a producer of objective documents. This is not a question that has only recently arisen with the emergence of the digital format — from its very inception, the camera has functioned to make a picture of the world, which is something very different from the total (re)creation of one. A “mirror with a memory,” the photographic image insinuates itself between us and the place and time in which it was made, a technology (and a displacement) that enables the wide array of strategies displayed by the artists in this show.

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The works gathered for The Camera Always Lies are divided into four categories; Abstraction, The New Romantics, The Anti-Romantics, and The Attractions of Cinema, which are designed to recognize and to advance a conversation between the works featured and the selected artists on themes that reflect various aspects of the larger concept explored in the exhibition. In some cases the same artists and or bodies of work blur the boundaries of these prescribed themes, further emphasizing the elusiveness of established borders and boundaries within contemporary practices. The work in the Abstraction section presses the limits of the medium in departing from the often-assumed literalness of photographic representation, by pursuing seemingly pure, Platonic form. The New Romantics engage projections of desire and fantasy, tapping into the intertwined appeals of history and beauty; the Anti-Romantics expose the flip-side of the coin, puncturing the consumer/ commodity bubble that relies so heavily on photography for its persuasiveness. And finally, the work presented in the Kodak gallery, under the rubric The Attractions of Cinema, addresses the intersections of time, place, and perspective, with works that bear various conceptual relationships to the moving image.

While the exhibition focuses on artists working within the region, it should immediately become clear that there is no longer such a thing as a purely regional set of photographic and/or aesthetic concerns. Given today’s extremely efficient, globalized networks of information and transportation, it would be futile to attempt to identify a particular Hudson Valley aesthetic issue or (in the 19th century sense) a stylistic school within the region. Despite the wide variety of aesthetics and approaches included in the show, however, all of the artists selected for this Triennial are united in the sense that nothing seen here is as it initially appears. By bending perception through the selective deployment of strategies such as framing, focus, and shifts in scale or perspective, the viewer is challenged to make sense of the results. It is my hope that these ‘lies,’ taken together, will help to reveal a larger truth about who and what we are now, in a world that is so fundamentally altered and constructed by the photographic image.

—Beth E. Wilson, Curator

Beth E. Wilson is an art historian, critic, and curator. She teaches art history at SUNY New Paltz including courses on the History of Photography and the History of Film. In 2005-06, Wilson served as interim curator at the Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art at SUNY New Paltz where she organized the exhibition The Material Image: Surface and Substance in Photography. She has been the resident art critic for Chronogram magazine since 1999 and was the curator of the 2007 Kingston Sculpture Biennial.

Joan Barker

Joan Dugdale

Jaanika Peerna

Rob Penner

Sam Sebren

Julianne Swartz

Kathleen Sweeney

Susan Wides

Ion Zupcu