“I think it is especially important that museums should not prescribe norms. In my opinion, they should go with the evolutionary flow of practice, which today is toward ever increasing diversification and also – even if photographers are still a little reticent about it – a greater degree of immateriality.”
Quoted in the preface to Alessandra Mauro’s new book Photo Show, Quentin Bajac, chief curator of photography at MoMA New York, is discussing new approaches to designing and staging exhibitions that may come to bear in the future of photography. In the Internet age, when the roles and means of participation for photographers, curators and audiences alike have shifted significantly, the need to look back at the history of photography, not just via photobooks but also through key international shows, is paramount.
Too often, photography – one of the most dynamic forms of visual culture – is explored through chronology, techniques, movements and individual practitioners, but precious little study is committed to exhibition practices. As its title suggests, Photo Show puts the exhibition in the frame, looking at 12 landmark photography exhibitions.
Enlisting help from writers, curators and photographers such as Gerry Badger, Francesco Zanot, Paul-Louis Roubert and Lélia Wanick Salgado, the book provides various judgement seats from which to observe some of the most significant exhibitions, museums and figures that have shaped photography.
London’s Great Exhibition of 1851, the Vienna International Exhibition of 1891, Film und Foto in Stuttgart in 1929 – all are apt and compelling case studies. So too, of course, is Edward Steichen’s seminal The Family of Man exhibition from 1955, that great watershed moment in the medium; a show that toured the globe and has been displayed in over 150 museums worldwide.
Photo Show is a one-of-a-kind book that offers a fascinating appraisal of photography’s decisive events and remarkable exhibitions from the past. It serves as a healthy reminder for the future that it is not institutions who innovate, but individuals.
For more information or to order a copy visit www.thamesandhudson.
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