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"Joy Before the Object: Expressions of Modernism from UCR/CMP Collections"
2001-01-20 until 2001-03-25
California Museum of Photography
Riverside, CA, USA

A concern with the object and the objectivity of photography is the common thread that ties together the photographs in Joy Before the Object. Renger-Patzsch uses object to signify tangible material. Weston used the expression the thing itself, Siskind spoke of the altogether new object, and Adams spoke of photographing truthfully. Yet, their concern is similar: each wanted to use the camera with absolute adherence to the basic characteristics of the medium: a straight, unmanipulated aesthetic, sharp focus, new and extraordinary viewpoints, and dramatic use of tonality. Each hoped their images would lead to insight and emotion. This warring duality between objectivity and sentiment is one of the defining characteristics of Modernist photography.

There is an urgent need to examine old opinions and look at things from a new viewpoint. There must be an increase in the joy one takes in an object, and the photographer should become fully conscious of the splendid fidelity of reproduction made possible by his technique.
-- Albert Renger-Patzsch, 1928

The photographs in this exhibition are drawn from the collections archive of UCR/California Museum of Photography. They have been arranged in a number of topical groupings: The New Object, The Mystic Object, The Essential Object, The Ordered Object, The Sublime Object and The Illuminated Object. These groupings are not definitive, nor do they address every aspect of Modernism in photography. They do, however, make apparent many Modernist concerns.

Modernist photography began in the 1910s as a reaction against the pictorial styles that had dominated art photography since the 1880s. Pictorialism was the first real attempt by photographers to establish the validity of photography as an art form. Through the use of soft-focus and hand-manipulation of negatives and prints, photographers achieved a style that likened photographs to painting, the privileged high art medium. The subject matter was often romanticized and was generally figural and representational. In this early quest for legitimacy, photography, in spite of its inherent differences, had taken on the characteristics of painting.

Beginning in the 1910s, a new photographic sensibility began to emerge which signaled a shift away from the painterly, manipulated, and soft-focus photography. Modernist photographers and theorists proposed that photography should represent the technical characteristics of the medium-pure and unmanipulated. Modernism became a prescriptive model through which photography could come into its own as an established art form. Photographers became increasingly fascinated by what could be achieved through their medium. The break from painterly photography marked the idea of the uniqueness of the photographic process. The photographers in this exhibition were not only prolific in their photographic work, but also wrote extensively about the medium. A quote by one of the photographers is a focal point for each of the exhibition's groupings. Each photographer has eloquently described his or her concerns on objectivity and expression.

- Excerpt from Exhibition Essay by Karen Barber, Guest Curator


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