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The Insistent Object: Photographs 1845 – 1986

Prompted by the gallery’s acquisition of an important photograph of the early French photographer Charles Aubry, the exhibition deals with photographs of objects that have a particularly emphatic presence. Assembled over the last year, the exhibition is accompanied by a catalog with 27 full-page duotone reproductions.

To quote from the catalog’s introduction:

From time to time photographers happen upon a subject that appears so complete in itself that there seems to be little room left for the photographer’s imagination. In such cases, the subject alone seems to dictate the form of the picture, or so the photographer might have us believe. Photographs of this kind appear so frequently throughout the history of photography, beginning in fact with Fox Talbot’s earliest pictures, that they constitute a solid yet unacknowledged tradition.

It is difficult to describe these photographs in words beyond the nominal identification of their subjects. They are pictures about a leaf, a chair, an apple, a stone. The thing itself is precisely what each picture is ‘about.’  It is curious, then, that these bare visual facts often take on a stronger, more vivid, more emphatic presence than if the actual object was there to contemplate before us.

…These disparate photographs have been brought together because they share a related aesthetic temperament. They reiterate one of photography’s oldest lessons: that there is nothing so mysterious as a thing clearly described. As for the photographer’s themselves, each had something significant to impart, and did so with uncommon eloquence and restraint.  Their pictures will continue to remind us how satisfying a straightforward photograph can be.

The exhibition included rarely seen works by Fox Talbot, Adolphe Braun, Carleton Watkins, Eugene Atget, Edward Weston, Walker Evans, Man Ray, Robert Frank, Diane Arbus, and Robert Mapplethorpe, among others.