Penelope Umbrico, "Sunset Portraits from Sunset Pictures on Flicker", 2010-ongoing, Site-specific, dimensions vary (968 digital c-prints at CPW)

Penelope Umbrico, “Sunset Portraits from Sunset Pictures on Flicker”, 2010-ongoing, Site-specific, dimensions vary (968 digital c-prints at CPW)

Penelope Umbrico


Sunset Portraits from Sunset Pictures on Flickr is from the same source as the Suns (from Sunsets) from Flickr project where I searched the photo-sharing web site Flickr and found that “sunsets” were most present (541,795 in 2006). For Sunset Portraits I have left the subjects in the photographs. I was thinking of the relationship between the “collective” and the “individual “, the individual assertion of “being here” in the photograph, and the lack of individuality that is ultimately the experience when faced with so many assertions that are more or less all the same.
The title reflects the number of hits I get searching “sunset” on Flickr at the time, for example:

Sunset Portraits from 8,480,717 Flickr Sunsets on 12/29/10
Sunset Portraits from 9,623,557 Flickr Sunsets on 8/22/11
Sunset Portraits from 9,673,302 Flickr Sunsets on 8/31/11
Sunset Portraits from 9,807,121 Flickr Sunsets on 9/24/11

– the title itself becoming a comment on the ever increasing use of web-based photo communities and a reflection of the collective content there. And since this number only lasts an instant, its recording is analogous to the act of photographing the sunset itself.

Photography is as much the subject of my work as it is the medium in which I work. I employ traditional photographic techniques and methods of appropriation, extraction, multiple production, and intervention, to explore how we, as a culture, make and use images.

My focus on collective practices in photography has led me to examine subjects that are collectively photographed. I take the sheer quantity of images online as a collective archive that represents us – a constantly changing auto-portrait. I view all visual expression within this collectively emergent environment as potential for social signs that hint at something other than what they depict. The work is an accumulation that navigates between consumer and producer, materiality and immateriality, and individual and collective expression.
The idea of absence and erasure is a constant theme in my work, especially with regard to the popular uses of technologies in photography and on the Internet that seem to promise visibility, community and intimacy. I question the idea of the democratization of media, where pre-scripted images, made with tools programmed to function in predetermined ways, claim to foster subjectivity and individuality.

In much of my work I address how differently an image functions on the internet than in physical time/space, the shifts in meaning around the subject depicted in the image in both contexts, and what happens to the image’s perceived value when transcribed from web-based to print-based media.

I have begun to see some of the objects pictured in the images I find as the aftermath and by-products of Modernism. These images register the disparity between an optimistic Modernism (the seduction of clean emptied space; promises of efficiency and productivity; the mass-production and availability of everything) and the dystopic result (technological breakdown, ecological disaster, social alienation).

PENELOPE UMBRICO (born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1957) offers a radical reinterpretation of everyday consumer and vernacular images. Umbrico works “within the virtual world of consumer marketing and social media, traveling through the relentless flow of seductive images, objects, and information that surrounds us, searching for decisive moments—but in these worlds, decisive moments are cultural absurdities.” She finds these moments in the pages of consumer product mail-order catalogs, travel and leisure brochures; and websites like Craigslist, EBay, and Flickr. Identifying image typologies—candy-colored horizons and sunsets, books used as props—brings the farcical, surreal nature of consumerism to new light.

Umbrico graduated from the Ontario College of Art and Design in Toronto, and received her MFA from the School of Visual Arts, New York. She has participated extensively in solo and group exhibitions, including at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and PS1 Contemporary Art Center, New York. Umbrico is core faculty in the School of Visual Arts MFA Photography, Video, and Related Media Program. Selected public collections include the Guggenheim Museum (NY), International Center of Photography (NY), McNay Museum of Art (TX), Metropolitan Museum of Art (NY), Museum of Contemporary Photography (IL), Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego (CA), Museum of Modern Art (NY), and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (CA), Los Angeles County Museum of Art (CA), among others. She lives in New York City.