Extensions of the Eye explores the versatility of the photographic medium–specifically focusing on themes of process, identity, and spatial depth. Using the body as a point of departure, the exhibition examines the works of Barbara Morgan (American, 1900-1992), Naomi Savage (American, 1927-2005), and Kunié Sugiura (Japanese, b. 1942). Employing non-traditional methods and technologies to create their works, these photographers investigate image and identity, and allow for alternative ways to understand bodies in relation to the world around them. These processes enable Morgan, Savage, and Sugiura to achieve a rich formal language and to challenge or disrupt the viewer’s notion of “real” space and its relationship to photography.
Developed in the late 1830s by European inventors, including Louis Daguerre, Joseph Nicéphore Niépce, and Henry Fox Talbot, photography paved the way for a new scientific art form that appeared to capture objective reality. Although the first forms of the medium endeavored to duplicate objects from nature, focusing on people, landscapes, and still lifes, the medium evolved so that it can no longer be defined solely by the desire to reproduce a shared visual reality. Indeed, as these artists demonstrate, photography is uniquely suited to explore more complex, multivalent approaches to reality.
Although alternative processes date back to the 1850s with Oscar Rejlander and Henry Peach Robinson’s combination printing—an early form of photomontage—it was not until the early twentieth century that the manipulation of photographs became more widely employed and accepted.
In the 1930s, inspired by European Dada and Surrealist artists, Barbara Morgan began experimenting with non-traditional processes in an attempt to visually juxtapose social dichotomies of the modern world and to convey a feeling of movement. Morgan employed photomontage—a technique that involves cutting and joining multiple photographs to produce a composite image—to create surreal juxtapositions that highlight tensions between nature and culture, movement and stasis, feminine and masculine, organic and geometric. Referring to herself as a “kinetic light sculptor,” she also experimented with light drawing by moving a handheld light source in front of an open camera shutter in her dark studio.
By employing alternative photographic techniques Barbara Morgan, Naomi Savage, and Kunié Sugiura “rearrange” the sense of reality assumed in photography. All three artists work within the subtly austere vocabulary of black and white photography, a choice which intensifies the impact of their constructed spaces.
Morgan, Savage, and Sugiura all raise questions of identity in their work, using the body as a way to explore the complex relationships between self, image, and perception.
By constructing visual dichotomies in her photographs, Barbara Morgan underscore dualities present in the world. For example, she contrasts nature and culture by juxtaposing skyscrapers and seashells. When read metaphorically, the divisions between gender roles are evoked, as well as the dichotomy between male and female that exists in all of us.
All three artists investigate ways of representing space and depicting spatial relationships. Through technical processes and compositional devices, they challenge our perception of “real” space. Expanding and flattening their compositions–sometimes simultaneously–they push and pull the viewer, complicating our relationship to the pictorial space.
Barbara Morgan both creates space and negates it, and her juxtapositions of disparate forms both rupture and reconstruct time and space. By pairing and overlapping her imagery, and by varying tonality and transparency, Morgan creates a single, integrated plane that still allows the viewer to see her individual subjects as spatially distinct. –Laura Mintz ’12
From the exhibition: Extensions of the Eye: Three Women Photographers (February 18 – April 15, 2012)