NYC's MOMA Exhibits a Photo How-To

Looks like museums are appreciating the value of “semi” interactive experiences, even if it is installed on their grand white walls in the form of a photography exhibition. In the The Printed Picture, located on the third floor of the Modern Museum of Art in Manhattan, the viewer experiences a sequential how-to on photo printing techniques throughout the ages in the form of explanation and compelling photographic examples.  While some of these images, under normal circumstances, would never find their way onto an art museum wall admittedly by MOMA curators, the displays are instructional and fascinating.

On view until July 13, 2009, the show is perfect for the professional who’d like to try experiment with some different photo techniques as well as the novice who may want to pick a genre, perfect it, and stand out.

Like the book of the same name, the exhibit follows the technology of making and distributing images from the Renaissance to present day digital processes. There are woodblock and engravings, but I found the more contemporary techniques inviting, such as Platinum and Palladium processing as well as the side-by-side comparison of images from different camera formats.  Augmenting the display are details of dozens of images magnified fifty times to reveal the structure of the image. The show is mounted in a way that one could easy take out a pad and jot notes for later use.

Still, an accompanying side display of  Helen Levitt’s early work with a handheld Leica of poor children hamming it up in NYC streets demonstrates that perhaps technology has no bearing on the success of the final product. Only the eye behind the lens does. It had no fancy tricks, techniques or technology. In 1943, about a year after her first image was taken, Edward Steichen curated her first solo exhibition Helen Levitt: Photographs of Children at the MOMA.

by Helen Levitt

This show can serve as great inspiration for any photogs creatively stuck in the summer humidity. The simply written accounts of particular processes reveal how the process by which a picture is made can indeed shape its meaning, but not necessarily its ability to elicit emotion. For more information visit http://www.moma.org/visit/calendar/exhibitions/309. -Alysha Sideman

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