Your American Moments

We kicked off an American Moments photo contest last week and are so impressed with the quality and range of images you’ve sent in that we had to share a few here on the blog. Submit yours by July 21 for a chance to win a Leica D-Lux (Type 109) camera, Phillips membership, and more.

Texas Special_Isabella Achenbach

Photo: Isabella Achenbach

Texas Special by Isabella Achenbach
This 35mm film photograph captures a middle aged man working one of the games booths at the State Fair of Texas in Dallas in October, 2014. The man’s energy (and lung capacity) was a site to behold, even amongst the crowds of people eating fried twinkies and turkey legs. The State Fair of Texas brought kids with face paint, angsty teenagers, parents with full hands, and grandparents with matching Dallas Cowboys football t-shirts together in one place. The fair has taken place every year since 1886, and while I believe this photograph is timelessly American, it is still rooted in the contemporary American lifestyle. In keeping with The Phillips Collection’s commitment to contemporary photography, but also acknowledging the photographs exhibited in American Moments, I selected a documentary-style photograph that is vibrantly colorful but still shot on film and hand developed.

What I dont know_Luca Bartolini

Photo: Luca Bartolini

What I Don’t Know by Luca Bartolini
People have always been on the move in America. The means of transportation have changed, but our faces have not. On the metro people are in a limbo, where their thoughts become fluid and blend with the background noise. Their anger and despair is only perceived by the tiny contractures of their facial muscles. Like in Bruce Davidson’s Sitting in the Back of the Bus, people keep going, maybe not knowing where, but just knowing that they are alive.

Snow Sands_Juan Riveros

Photo: Juan Riveros

Snow Sands by Juan Riveros
Gypsum dunes covered with fresh snow in White Sands, Tularosa Basin, New Mexico. The Southwest scenery is uniquely American, a space of extraordinary light, infinite textures, unlimited spaces and abstraction.

Bridget on the roof_joe flood

Photo: Joe Flood

Bridget on the Roof by Joe Flood
In the once-blighted Shaw neighborhood of Washington, DC, a woman looks out on a landscape now filled with new apartment buildings and condos.

Berenice Abbott’s Canyon and Beyond

Berenice Abbott, Canyon: Broadway and Exchange Place, 1936. Gelatin silver print, 9 3/8 x 7 1/2 in. Gift of the Phillips Contemporaries, 2001. The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC.

Berenice Abbott, Canyon: Broadway and Exchange Place, 1936. Gelatin silver print, 9 3/8 x 7 1/2 in. Gift of the Phillips Contemporaries, 2001. The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC.

One of the works in the new American Moments: Photographs from The Phillips Collection exhibition is a photograph by Berenice Abbott called Canyon: Broadway and Exchange Place. The image is reminiscent of a canyon because the tall buildings dwarf the camera. The viewer feels miniature in comparison to the surrounding skyscrapers.  I particularly like the contrast between light and dark spaces. Daylight is barely streaming through the cracks between buildings, adding to the feeling that the buildings might come tumbling down as they hover above you. The photograph makes me feel claustrophobic, as if I barely have space to breathe when surrounded by such imposing structures.

Studying this exhibition, which includes over 130 photographs by 33 artists, I find that many of the photographs are documentary: what was in the lens is what got photographed. Photography gives viewers an opportunity to compare what is being shown with what is experienced firsthand. Generally speaking, early documentary photographs were often simple to decipher, and they did not typically confuse or frustrate the audience the way other art forms might. In part, this exhibition depicts how photography in the 20th-century was thought of as a window on reality. Even the most educated viewers are inclined to see only the object that is represented, regarding it as the principal subject matter. However, less recognizable are the tools used by a photographer to create a compelling image: the shadows, lighting, and cropping. As Richard Avedon said, “All photographs are accurate. None of them is the truth.” By using multiple techniques to create a photograph, the artist creates something otherwise not seen by the naked eye.

Almost everyone has used a camera, and therefore, photography might be seen as a more readily available art form of the masses.  From its beginning, photography has fought criticism of the medium’s artistic merit. Some critics stated that photography seemed too easy to be art, contending that it was simply a technological way to reproduce what we see.  Others argued that photography was one of the highest art forms because artists manipulate the lens of the camera to represent something unseen or missed by the naked eye. Much debate ensued between photographers and those who did not see photography as art.  I find this argument among the most compelling and complicated in the entire history of photography—an argument that still goes on today.

Lana Housholder, Gallery Educator

Man Ray’s Shakespearean Equations: All’s Well That Ends Well

alls_well_ends_well_trilogy

(left) Mathematical Object: Algebraic Surface of Degree 4, c. 1900. Wood, 3 1/8 x 2 3/8 in. Made by Joseph Caron. The Institut Henri Poincaré, Paris, France. Photo: Elie Posner (middle) Man Ray, Mathematical Object, 1934-35. Gelatin silver print, 9 1/2 x 11 3/4 in. Courtesy of Marion Meyer, Paris. © Man Ray Trust / Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY / ADAGP, Paris 2015 (right) Man Ray, Shakespearean Equation, All’s Well that Ends Well, 1948. Oil on canvas, 16 x 19 7/8 in. Courtesy of Marion Meyer, Paris. © Man Ray Trust / Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY / ADAGP, Paris 2015

Defying easy categorization as comedy or tragedy, Shakespeare’s All’s Well That Ends Well—with its curious mixture of fairytale logic, gender role reversals, and cynical realism—and Man Ray’s corresponding painting provide a fitting finale to this journey from mathematics to Shakespeare. Removing the wood and metal supports of the mathematical models (seen in the left and middle images above) and placing the untethered forms against an undulating white cloth, Man Ray created a composition in which the objects occupy an ambiguous space between the real and the surreal. These small models find their apotheosis almost a decade later in a 1956 pen-and ink drawing, attesting to the fact that the models he encountered in 1930s Paris continued to haunt and inspire him for years to come. They have gone from three-dimensional objects, once of great utility to mathematicians, into abstract, ethereal forms.

Wendy Grossman, Exhibition Curator