Photographer: Evolution From Technician to Artist

Showing through May 15, 2011 at the Baltimore Museum of Art  (Photo by Bonnie J. Schupp)
Baltimore used to have an annual art show around either Montebello Lake or Druid Hill Lake. My memory is a little fuzzy but I do remember when I was rejected sometime in the 1960’s. To participate in this unjuried art show, one merely had to sign a form. I wish I could find my rejection letter but it essentially said I couldn’t show because photography was not art. I believe this line of thinking had something to do with how photos were made…with a mechanical device. 

We’ve come a long way since then. 

People used to say that “the camera never lies.” Not anymore. Now we recognize that the photographer can bend the light waves of truth around her own perception, leading to a new interpretation of “reality.” (And, of course, there’s always Photoshop.) Choices of camera angle, cropping, timing, color, format and presentation are determined by the artist’s personal vision and interpretation.  

In 2008 the Baltimore Museum of Art presented Through the Lens: Photography 1900-1960 featuring works by Man Ray, Alfred Stieglitz, Edward Weston, Paul Strand, Dorothea Lange, Gordon Parks and Harry Callahan. Along with this exhibit, some contemporary artists such as MICA’s Connie Imboden were invited to interpret the exhibition’s ideas with their own work. In addition to this, the community was invited to create digital images inspired by this show. One of my pieces was chosen for the digital gallery.

At the BMA (Photo by Bonnie J. Schupp)

Now in 2011, the BMA is showing Seeing Now: Photography Since 1960, a collection of more than 200 images featuring works of 60 modern photographers.  Artists include Cindy Sherman, Diane Arbus, Garry Winogrand and Robert Frank, among others. The exhibit is clustered in five groups: Seeing Pictures, Seeing People, Seeing Places, Seeing Performance, and Seeing Photography.  

You can read an excellent review by Cara Ober of the Urbanite here.

Instead of duplicating what others have already done well, I’ll add a few personal observations.

  • Humanity dominates the art in this exhibit. Even in those images that have no humans within the frame, they draw the viewer in and the viewer becomes the missing person connected with the photograph.  
  •  There were some things that I “didn’t get,” such as the videos with the artists continually saying, “Good morning” and “Good night.” However, exposure to art which stretches how you see both art and reality leads us to a more multi-layered life. After all, the mission of art is to push us toward seeing things in new ways, to demand that we think about things even when we want to ignore them, to help us connect the past and present and move toward the future, and to question where we are in time.
  • In the past, photography exhibits always had a simple black frame around a matted photograph. In this exhibit format is more varied. There are numerous white frames and even one where a decorative frame seems to be part of the art.
  • This was the first exhibit I have seen which uses smartphone technology. If your cell phone has the proper app downloaded, you can scan the bar code below some of the photos. Just as the museum reached out to the broader community with Through the Lens, once again a broader community has been invited to participate. This time, the bar code scan will call up a link about that image that points you to some of Nate Larson’s MICA students who have responded to these works.
  •  Finally, there are several pieces where words and images are equally part of the art. I predict we will see this marriage of words and images more frequently in the future. *
During the past few years, I’ve worked on connections between words and images.  In Defining Ourselves, the words were those of my subjects and the photos were collaborative between subject and photographer.  Presently I’m working on another long-term project, Together 40+, where my subjects must respond verbally before they sit in front of the camera. And another daily word/image project I’m working on for 2011 is Dog Tag Poetry.  This blending of words and images adds a new layer—and challenge—to my photography vision.

Don't miss Seeing Now: Photography Since 1960 at the Baltimore Museum of Art. It will force you to question and change your perception of reality.

Check out these links.....................................................

“Defining Ourselves” has shown in Annapolis, Fairfax, Rockville and Baltimore. I was also interviewed on WYPR’s The Signal.
Although there’s much of 2011 yet to go, you can get a taste of my Dog Tag Poetry here:

Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) – Step out of your comfort zone  

If you’re unfamiliar with the International Visual Literacy Association, you can find out more here: