When photographs speak the language of art

Updated: Mar 21, 2011, 12:00 PM IST

New Delhi: Growing awareness about art as a reflection of surrounding realities, wider markets and a new segment of collectors have brought photography back to the centre-stage of contemporary art. Two international exhibitions of photographic art in the national capital, at the Religare Art in Connaught Place and in the National Gallery of Modern Art, are attracting steady streams of viewers for their depiction of American and British contemporary realities.

Noted American photographer Todd Hido, who was in India last week to address a gathering at the opening of a showcase, "American Psyche: 10 Contemporary American Photographers" at Religare Arts, on the evolution of photography in the US, said one of the reasons why photography as an art was making inroads into the collectors` market was its easy association.

"People find it easy to relate to photographs. They are kind of real and affordable. Photographs are now collectibles of the wealthy too," Hido told reporters.

His photographs grace the collection of British pop musician Elton John and are in permanent collections in several museums across the US.

Hido photographs houses at night and common people in the American suburban environment. "I drive around a lot and something calls out to be photographed," Hido said.

American photographer Paul Shabroom, a member of the "American Pysche" team, makes high art out of the functioning of American democracy.

The photographer, who captures city council meetings of residents in smaller provincial cities across the US, documents the mood of the electorate, the variety of nationalities and issues that constitute everyday life in the US.

Shabroom said he "spends hours at the usually dreary council meetings to capture right moments and the right expressions". The end result is an artistic document of American reality.

Lensman Mark Steinmetz chronicles the psyche of the common people across the American towns of Tennessee, Georgia, Ohio and Connecticut with his camera.

His black and white portraits on display define the 21st century American expressions that vary between boredom, binging, surprise, pique, grief, resignation and hope.

For award-winning photographer Susan Felter, the cowboys of her youth - who peopled the rodeos in the city she grew up - represent "Hollywood myths".

"The young sexy cowboys are extraordinary and ordinary at the same time. They are a culture beyond my own," Felter said of her Cowboy series at the American Psyche showcase.

Tracing the history of photography in the US and in the west in general, American curator Janet Delaney said: "When the first photographs were shot in the US in the 1840s, they were a tool to record landscapes."

"Government offices in Washington DC commissioned large-format landscape portraits. But nearly 170 years later, photography is a high-technology art with the intentionality of abstraction," Delaney told reporters.

She said this principle of photographic evolution - from a document to a work of art - was similar almost the world over.

According to Martin Barnes, the curator of an exhibition of British photographs, "Something That I`ll Never Really See: Contemporary Photography from the V&A (Victoria & Albert Museum)", at the National Gallery of Modern Art in the capital, "Photographers have become aligned with the concerns of contemporary fine art practice, focussing more on the illustration of an idea than on demonstrations of skill or mere aesthetic pleasure."

"Increasingly, prevalent digital technology has allowed innovative methods of production and dissemination," Barnes said.

He observed that photographers could innovate because "a new type of private collector has emerged, typically younger than the connoisseur-collector of more traditional art forms such as paintings or fine prints".

"The new photograph collector was perhaps less daunted by photography and is drawn by modernity, accessibility and familiarity with photographic images," Barnes explained.

"Private collectors, galleries and art fairs have created and sustained a vibrant market for photographs," Barnes said.

The exhibition, "Something That I`ll Never Really See", was inaugurated by Culture Minister Kumari Selja March 10.

Curated by Barnes, the exhibition, which was in Bengaluru last month, has brought 40 photographs by 30 artists to depict pivotal movements in photographic history.

The showcases close early April.

IANS