Photography Now 2017, the Center for Photography at Woodstock’s annual overview exhibit, opened last weekend as a popular glimpse of multiple modes being covered by the increasingly popular, all-encompassing medium. There’s much diversity of intent and style on view; what holds the vision expressed by noted juror William A. Ewing, former director of exhibitions at the International Center for Photography, New York, and Musee de l’Elysee, Lausanne, is boldness of vision, be it through bright colors or striking, almost surreal imagery.
“I admit I like to serve on juries, as a general principle, as it gives me an insight on what’s being produced now; curators tend to be focused on the past, even if it’s the recent past, and most museum curators are dealing with photographers whose careers span 20 to 50 years,” Ewing has written of his culling of 47 representative works from 18 artists. “Even the photographers we term ‘emerging’ often turn out to have had a decade of work under their belts. So in competitions like this one, attracting more than 400 candidates, allows for an almost ‘up to the minute’ overview of where photography is today, and where it’s headed in the near future…I think most curators would agree with me when I say that what we are looking for in these situations is coherence or consistency across a body of work. One or two strong pictures and a dozen poor ones won’t pass the grade. Nor will a hodge-podge of images, jumping around from one subject to another. Secondly, the overarching idea, or ‘the concept’ mustn’t overshadow the work itself; a particular concept might sound intriguing when put in words, but might easily result in dull pictures.”
The artists — a majority are from New York City and its environs, although sizable numbers are also in from the Boston area, the West Coast, and several Midwest states — are of various ages, backgrounds, and earning careers beyond photography. Similarly, while some maintain journalistic ambitions, many are reaching beyond their images to something almost novelistic, or at least able to describe life these days in meaningful ways.
“So what are the threads of this tapestry?” Ewing asks in his juror’s statement. “Fact and fiction, each with its practitioners. Figurative work, realism, documentary work — all very much alive. Not surprisingly, given the way our lives unfold today, there is nothing in the way of traditional landscape: what might pass for ‘landscape’ is about the people in it, and how they react to it. Abstraction is another strong thread. But these are signposts. Best to make one’s own way among the pictures, letting them talk to us or asking our own questions of them, and sometimes letting then stop us in our tracks.”
Meanwhile, CPW Executive Director Hannah Frieser, who’s been working to raise the organization’s profile internationally as well as across all the nation’s arts, noted recently how the Center’s annual gala auction raised over $100,000 last month.
The 2017 CPW Award & Benefit Auction “to celebrate CPW’s 40th Anniversary” took place at Affirmation Arts on West 37th Street in Manhattan, with Mexican catering, a deejay, and auctioneering by Chelsea gallerist Rick Wester, who rose up through CPW co-founder Howard Greenberg’s gallery. The gala part of the evening honored Dr. Deborah Willis for her work as an advocate, artist, writer, curator and educator that’s included research into the photographic history of slavery and emancipation, and has seen her win prestigious MacArthur and Guggenheim fellowships. Her books include The Black Female Body A Photographic History, Reflections in Black: A History of Black Photographers – 1840 to the Present, Posing Beauty: African American Images from the 1890s to the Present, and Michelle Obama: The First Lady in Photographs. Her career is cemented by her current position as chair of the Department of Photography & Imaging at the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University.
Auction items included a cross-section of top contemporary and classic photographers, from Dawoud Bey to Margaret Bourke-White, from Danny Lyon and Mary Ellen Mark to Gordon Parks, Lilo Raymond, Aaron Siskind, and Garry Winogrand; proceeds now go to support CPW’s programs, which champion artists through residencies, workspace and other support, and provide opportunities for the photo community to engage with thought-provoking exhibitions, workshops and professional resources.
Alongside the joys and thoughtfulness of Photography Now 2017, that means a monthly salon series the first week of each month, and an upcoming “big event in Kingston,” details still emerging.
“My goal is to create a balance to our NYC event,” noted Frieser. “But more soon…”