The tectonic shift in the status of photography as compound art, as opposed to photojournalism, or “capturing the moment”, began in the 1970s.
Back then, “television was bringing war home, and bringing stories into people’s living rooms,” says Allison Moore, curator of photography at the St. Petersburg Museum of Fine Arts. This, she said, marked the end of the line for photo-heavy magazines Life and See. They had exceeded their usefulness.
Moore is the curator behind More than retro: art photography from the 1970s, the powerful exhibition which opens Saturday at the MFA. Drawn mainly from the museum’s collection, More than retro explores the rise of these new trends capturing the fringes of society as a subject, the rebellion against purism and the manipulation of images. Among the featured artists are Andy Warhol, Garry Winogrand, Dianora Niccolini, Jerry Uelsmann, Lewis Watts and Thomas Barrow.
Another major factor in the seismic change of the 1970s, Moore says, was the expansion of university art departments. “There was a whole need for art teachers and graduate students, the boom in master of fine arts programs… and an influx of funding from the National Endowment of the Arts for photography.”
Photographer Lewis Baltz No. 1, from 1974, is on the surface a black and white photograph of a parking lot, a wall and a gray sky. But the way it’s turned – it’s a series of geometric shapes. “It’s a California industrial park, which seems very soulless, nobody … it contrasts with Ansel Adams’ magnificent mountain imagery.”
It’s art. It makes you think.
Sheila Pinkel explores the dimensions of light and physics with her cameraless images. His bewitching piece Artichoke is an inkjet printed xeroradiograph (x-ray) on blue paper. “When she does that, Pinkel almost instills a connection to the mammogram in her.”
The 1970s saw the rise of experimental, conceptual, and even radical uses of photography and printmaking as accepted art forms. During this decade, “system” technologies – including laser printing and computer-generated imaging – began to gain traction.
Extract from Moore’s introduction to the exhibition brochure: “More than retro offers a new understanding of 1970s photography, suggesting its historical significance for today’s fine art photography, in which craftsmanship and concept remain inextricably linked.