'One Hour Photo,' at the Katzen Arts Center
By Jessica Dawson
Friday, May 7, 2010
Sorry, no art here!
In a heroic stroke of self-abnegation, conceptual artist Adam Good devised an exhibition that's not really an exhibition. It's a show, yes, but the images on view are disposable and will be disposed of -- after just a single hour on view.
To that end, the three curators behind "One Hour Photo" have declared an image embargo, refusing to show even one of the 128 photographs submitted by 128 artists that will be projected, one at a time, for 60 minutes only, during the 128-hour exhibition that opens Saturday evening at the Katzen Arts Center.
But "One Hour Photo" isn't about pictures, anyway. By forcing a shelf life on an art object -- you can't go back to see the picture you liked; you can't later tell your friends to see it, either -- "One Hour Photo" takes aim at a Facebooking, Twittering world of mediated experience. We're so busy reading about other people's experiences that we have fewer and fewer experiences of our own. In "One Hour Photo," you either see the picture or you don't.
So what does this say about photography? The discipline's stalwarts have watched problems mount. Extreme accessibility (thanks, digital cameras) has created mountains of (often) useless images and a huge population of photographers. "One Hour Photo" acknowledges that, but also -- curiously, inversely -- reacts to photography's emergence as an expensive, exclusive medium on par with painting, where massively scaled, limited-edition archival prints command steep prices.
Once a myth-busting force, photography as an art form emerged to challenge the supremacy of the single art object. Why fetishize a single Leonardo when a run of prints will do? In the 1930s, when theorist Walter Benjamin declared that camera reproductions had destroyed the aura of the single, quasi-religious art object, academics and artists cheered the opening of the art world to the masses.
But by showing a picture for just one hour and then never again, "One Hour Photo" sullies photography's reputation. It's as if "One Hour Photo" were throwing up a handful of Leonardos every day -- both making and destroying them in the same hour.
The brainchild of Good, 29, the show is a way to dial back time, sales and endless replications.
(You'll know Good from his work with art collective WE ARE SCIENCE!, the two-person force behind December's "Art is____" event at the Phillips Collection. Good also gathered a troupe of business suit-clad friends to muck it up in last summer's Washington Project for the Arts-sponsored SynchroSwim event at the Capitol Skyline Hotel pool.)
"So many experiences are tied to some next action, like purchasing or coming back and seeing or telling your friends or Twitter sharing and posting," Good says.
"This show takes it back to how we experience the world in the first place," says Chandi Kelley, 28, one of a pair of photographers Good recruited to help curate his exhibition. "You blink your eye and it's gone."
Per a nonbinding release, each participant agrees "never to reproduce, display, sell, or otherwise expose to the public the submitted work" after uploading it to the exhibition's server.
Most every "One Hour Photo" piece will never see life in hard copy. They're shot digitally, uploaded and then transferred to a gallery computer for the show. Both the server and computer hard drive will be wiped clean once the show is over. It'll be like the pictures never existed.
"A lot of being an artist is: How many people can you get to see this work?" says photographer Chajana denHarder, 28, who, along with Kelley, was brought on to curate and who also submitted work. "I wanted to make a piece and see what happens when no one sees it. It's an experiment."
To delight in one's work never being seen is a perverse pleasure that only an artist could embrace. To their credit, the curators enticed an impressive roster of artists to sign the waiver.
Penelope Umbrico, head of Bard College's MFA photography program and creator of "5,377,183 Suns from Flickr" currently on view at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, scavenges found photos, often from eBay or Flickr. "I'm interested in the photograph as a visual currency in a social collective," Umbrico says. " 'One Hour Photo' is about how that kind of photography gets expressed and distributed."
Tim Davis, Umbrico's colleague in the Bard photography department and a regular on the international gallery circuit, contributed an image because he thought Good's concept spoke intelligently to problems in contemporary photography. "I've always been very skeptical of the attempt to make photography too grand and too permanent," Davis says. "All photographs, even the most archival, are unstable and prone to disintegration. There's been this trend in the last 15 years of photographs getting bigger and bigger and trying harder to compete with painting. I always felt that, that ignored their transitory nature."
But even as "One Hour Photo" attempts to transform the "permanent" photograph into something fleeting, you've got to wonder. If the Library of Congress is archiving tweets, you know that these images aren't going anywhere. "At this point it's on good faith with the artist," Kelley says. "The release doesn't say that the image has to be destroyed by the artists. It just can't be shown publicly."
Such edicts haven't stopped at least one Facebook prankster from vowing to take pictures of the pictures while they're being projected.
But most everyone else is embracing the concept. Brooklyn artist Megan Cump, whose work will be shown on opening night, takes a Zen approach to her photo's imminent passing.
"This project is like fishing," Cump says. "Capture and release.
"It's there for a moment and then you let it go."