THE SPACE BETWEEN: REDEFINING PUBLIC AND PERSONAL IN SMARTPHONE PHOTOGRAPHY
Curated by Henry Jacobson
Featuring Laura El-Tantawy, Henry Jacobson, Chip Litherland, Florence Oliver, Kerry Payne, Mark Peterson, Sofia Verzbolovskis, and the two collectives, Echo/Sight, and Tiny Collective.
On view: June 28 – September 15, 2014 (extended)
Opening reception: Saturday 5-7pm, June 28, 2014
Contrary to popular belief and common hyperbole, the Smartphone has not changed photography. Photography is still inherently about the recording of something real, something that existed in time and space.
Regardless of manipulation and editing – the image begins with a lens capturing some thing. What has changed, radically, and in a very short time period, is the landscape of photography – the space, physical and social, cultural and historical, in which we collectively approach the medium.
The rise of Instagram, which married the social network to smartphone photography, and now boasts over 75 million daily users, has popularized the notion of the camera/phone as first and foremost a communication device, rather than an image-making device. Photographers, or “iPhoneographers,” now aim to project themselves into the ether of the internet, engaging in an international, web-based exchange. Words have been replaced by photographic imagery, and the space in which these smartphone photo-dispatches operate has created an unprecedented freedom for professionals and amateurs alike.
The Space Between brings together a collection of images, photographic messages that represent a group of photographers whose use of smartphone photography reflects a conscious entry into the socially networked, shared simulacrum of reality. They move beyond the parameters of traditional photography and reposition the work within a broader socio-cultural dialogue.Continue Reading...
Writer and social satirist, David McMillan, writes of the current obsession with social networking sites as a new common human drive. Following in the traditions of Nietzsche and Freud, he dubs this new drive “The Will to Connect.” He describes a sense of identity dependent on its recognition by, and in, the other, but beyond the traditional desires of love and friendship. This new identity must be recognized en masse. We put up a post and watch eagerly as the “likes” roll in. The rise of socially networked photography has evolved, naturally, along the same lines as the socially networked collective psychology, and images now call to the Internet, as Abraham once called out to God, “I am here.”
The artists in this section each explore this drive photographically, whether in a literal sense, as with Kerry Payne’s project Instant Love Story, in a metaphysical sense illustrated beautifully in Florence Oliver’s dreamlike, Neo-Pictorialist work, or self-reflexively in the marriage of both the inner world and the physical location found in Henry Jacobson’s work, Postcards Home. They each use Smartphone photography to share their experiences, using abstraction, beauty, and formal/archetypal imagery. Their work comments on the nature of the new medium, the inherent qualities of imagery emerging from a device designed to collect, organize, and share personal experience.
The physical form the camera has taken additionally informs the content of this work. Always on us, they provide an indiscriminate intimate invitation into our personal space, connecting repeatedly to the networks we walk through everyday, pinging the apps of companies to share their owner’s location, not to mention other personal data, asking for a response in kind – information of every variety. This work offers a contemplation of the Smartphone’s impact on its owner’s personal interactions, and on the current shared structure of our technologized society, through the prism of the personal and the intimate.
The photographers represented here all come out of the documentary tradition. Their work, having always existed in a public forum, focuses on issues concerning broad swaths of the population. However, in each case, the Smartphone and the public forum of Instagram have led to a thoughtful (re)examination of the nature of public through the prism of photography.
These photographers, working in the public space of Smartphone photography, seek to engage the viewer directly, without the filter of magazine editors and the reliance on written narrative to carry a “reader” through a story. The images are the stories here, and as such are no longer bound by the hindrance of the written word. The image adopts a multiplicity of meanings – a reference to, and a freedom from, the traditional bonds of documentary photography.
The most literal iteration of this paradigm is Mark Peterson’s project – Politics in Black and White. One of America’s preeminent political photographers, Peterson originates these photographs on a DSLR while shooting on assignment for magazines, covering campaigns, rallies, and scandals. But for this work he repurposes those images within his Smartphone, creating an otherworldly effect that highlights the absurdity of American politics. The images recall the B-movie and sci-fi posters of 1950’s Hollywood, a time when America was politically naïve.
While both Sofia Verzbolovskis and Laura El-Tantawy bring a personal approach to the documentary format, Laura El-Tantawy truly departs from her journalistic alter-ego and documents the events and landscapes of both her native Egypt and England as a visceral experience of the times. Her images address the tumultuous Egyptian climate from the perspectives of both the insider and the outsider capturing the range of emotions from looming quiet to religious fervor. Sofia Verzbolovskis starts from the traditions of street photography, for which the Smartphone has become the ideal tool. But with a playful, lyrical tone she shoots her surroundings and sends them out to a mass of anonymous Instagram followers, a daily document of life.
In Tiny Collective, we witness the emergence of a public dialogue that could not have existed even four years ago, before the launch of Instagram. They communicate with each other as a constant Smartphone salon. They influence each other just as the French artists of the late Impressionist period influenced early German Expressionists, but do so instantly, in real time across continents. Their rapid exchange is witnessed by thousands of followers, providing a constant stream of creative conversation between the members of Tiny Collective, alongside their devoted viewership. Their work, installed here in salon-style serves as a physical nod to their digital collective, momentarily freezing their Smartphone-based dialogue on the gallery wall.
Chip Litherland and the collaborative Echo/Sight are two of the purest examples of artists to emerge singularly through the Smartphone photography. The medium’s elasticity, the ability to untether the image from time and space, the integration of millions of realities, allows them to create bodies of work of and by the Web.
Rooted in photojournalism, Chip Litherland layers location upon location, texture upon color, to create a reality that evokes the work of the Speculative Fiction writer and “noir prophet” William Gibson on acid, designed more naturally for the web than for reality itself – the viewer “jacked in” to Litherland’s supersaturated psychedelic mindscape. All of this occurs on the Smartphone, which operates as both his paint and his canvas. Each new slice of reality presents itself to him, ready to integrate into his hyper-real vision.
Echo/Sight (a collaboration between photographers Danny Ghitis and Daniella Zalcman) dwell within the same visual idiom as Litherland, but as an international collaboration they create a single image representing two visions as one. Collaboration, the ideological foundation on which the internet itself was built, has become so fundamental to Smartphone photography that Echo/Sight has become a regularly used (Instagram) noun – #echosight, used to refer to when two images from two different photographers in two different places are blended together and shared as one single photograph. The idea is so elemental to Smartphone photography that photographers all over the world, almost immediately began making their own #echosights and sharing them under the communal hashtag. Since its inception, Ghitis and Zalcman’s vision for Echo/Sight has expanded to include other photo-duos, turning their Instagram page into a virtual gallery, hosting weekly international collaborations.
In taking the images out of their native digital format and placing them within the context of a traditional gallery exhibition, we have the opportunity to examine the current relationship of photography in the context of this shared virtual platform and the implications it has on the historical significance of the photograph as document and as art.
These eight individual artists and two collectives gathered here, with varied methodologies, practice within this dynamic space while simultaneously commenting on its unique characteristics – creating a dialogue between the personal image and its public persona. The result is a new relationship to photography, a detachment from the constraints of photographic reality, and a self-reflexive acknowledgment of each artist’s occupation of this bourgeoning photographic landscape.
- Henry Jacobson, 2014