Sunday, August 26, 2007

The New New Documentary Photograph

In 1967 the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) introduced the world to Diane Arbus, Lee Friedlander and Garry Winogrand under the banner of the show “New Documents”. It was presented as a new way to do documentary photography. I am not sure whether the aim was to redefine or broaden the definition of documentary photography. I hope the objective was to broaden it not redefine it. In 1976 the Museum of Modern Art did a major show of William Eggleston. This show legitimized color photography as art. Lee Friedlander and Garry Winogrand brought Eggleston to the attention of the MoMA curator of photography John Szarkowski. The huge effect of these exhibits ripples thru photography’s history to the present day.

In 1990 Thomas Knoll invented the computer image editing program Photoshop. He sold the program to Adobe Systems and he continues to work with Adobe in a lead position on each new version of the program. It has become Adobe’s flagship product and is as central to computer image editing as Microsoft Word is to word processing. This has been a tough direction for experienced photographers to follow. There has been a heated debate as to where this computer program fits properly within art photography.

Over the past 6 years MoMA has presented 3 exhibits that seem to be showing a significant new direction in photography that involves the use of Photoshop. Beginning in 2001 with the Andreas Gursky and in 2007 with the shows Jeff Wall earlier in the year and the current show of Barry Frydlender. Between them they are creating a new type of photograph that at first glance appears to be a documentary photograph. Instead it is a photograph that has been carefully pieced together in Adobe Photoshop to create a reality that never existed in the real world. This new working method was created at by Jeff Wall. It will be very interesting to see how this affects photography over the next 10 years. Will these photography change photography to the extent that Arbus, Eggleston, Friedlander and Winogrand have changed photography? Frydlender sites Wall and Winogrand as his principal influences. I suspect Gursky was familiar with Wall’s work before he developed his current working method. Frydlender's work can be seen at MoMA thru Sept.3. Although this exhibit is disappointingly small this is the best photography exhibit I have seen this summer. This is an exhibit that should not be missed.

The Lee Friedlander photographs on the Fraenkel Gallery site cannot be accessed directly. Go to the site. Click on Enter. Click on Artists. Click on Lee Friedlander.