Borrowing its title from the eponymous work by Carrie Mae Weems (American, b. 1953), the exhibition presents the history of the medium in three parts, emphasizing the strengths of Menschel’s collection and mirroring his equal interest in historical, modern, and contemporary photography. Each section focuses on a moment in photography’s history and the conceptions of the medium that were dominant then: informational and documentary in the 19th and early 20th centuries, more formal and subjective in the immediate postwar era, and questioning and selfreferential from the 1970s onward. The installation occasionally diverges from a strict chronological progression, fueled by the conviction that works from different periods, rather than being antagonistic, correspond with and enrich each other.
From the 1970s onward, photographers began working in what A. D. Coleman defined as “The Directorial Mode,” wherein the photographer consciously creates events for the sole purpose of making images. John Coplans (British, 1920–2003) took his own body, naked and with the head invisible, as the subject of his work—both carrying on and contradicting the tradition of the selfportrait centered on the face—as seen in Self-Portrait (Back with Arms Above) (1984).
Joan Fontcuberta’s (Spanish, b. 1955) series Herbarium appears at first glance to be a collection of botanical studies, depicting plants with new and distinctive contours and rigorously scientific names. However, as revealed by his fictional character Dr. Hortensio Verdeprado (“green pasture” in Spanish), the “plants” are actually carefully composed by the photographer using scrap picked up in industrial areas around Barcelona. Made of bits of paper and plastic, small animal bones, and other detritus, these forms are not only non-vegetal—there is almost nothing natural about them at all. Fontcuberta is interested in the way data assumes meaning through its presentation and in the acceptance of the photographic image as evidence of truth. Other artists in this section include Jan Groover, David Levinthal, An-My Lê, Michael Spano, JoAnn Verburg, and William Wegman.
About Robert B. Menschel
Robert B. Menschel started collecting photographs in the 1970s, acquiring over the years hundreds of prints ranging from early to contemporary photography. He joined The Museum of Modern Art’s Committee on Photography in 1977, immersing himself not only in photography, its history, and its present, but also in the Museum’s culture. In 1989, he was elected to the Board of Trustees, becoming its President in 2002 and Chairman of the Board in 2005. In 2007, he was elected Chairman Emeritus and a Life Trustee of the Museum. From 1998 to 2002 he was Chair of the Committee on Photography.
Organized by Quentin Bajac, The Joel and Anne Ehrenkranz Chief Curator, with Katerina Stathopoulou, Curatorial Assistant, Department of Photography.
The exhibition is supported by the Annual Exhibition Fund.