Sunday, July 16, 2006
'On Photography' at the Met
There's a great little exhibit at the Met right now that I'd say is worth paying at least $3 for. It's inspired by the photography criticism of the recently late, great Susan Sontag, and shares its title with her seminal collection of essays on the topic. The introductory image of the exhibit is an awesome B&W photo that I've never seen before of Sontag lying down on a bed. Photographs in the three rooms, culled from the museum's collection, are paired with snippets from Sontag's writing, and each one is worth spending a few moments with, something I can't always say about photography exhibits. Sometimes her words comment directly on a particular body of work, other times they are about a certain aspect of photos in general. One great quote, which is paired with that famous Diane Arbus photo of the boy with the Bomb Hanoi button and the American flag: "The subjects of Arbus's photographs are all members of the same family; the inhabitants of one, single village. Only, as it happens, the idiot village is America." Which reminds me: The Arbus biopic with Nicole Kidman, Fur, is set to come out in November now. Also included in the "On Photography" exhibit is the "Falling Soldier" print by Robert Capa, alternatively titled "Death of a Republican Solider." The accompanying Sontag quotation raises the issue of whether this photo actually depicts the shooting death of a soldier, or whether it was a training exercise. [The question is examined in this article from Aperture via PBS.] The fact I never doubted that it is what it has become known to be highlights the way photos and their titles and our prejudices affect the meaning of such images. Seeing this photo again also inspired me to pick up the cold trail of the big red missing Igael Tumarkin sculpture inspired by this falling soldier that used to sit on Penn State's UPark campus. It was removed for "repairs" in 2002, but has yet to return, and I can't seem to discover its whereabouts or status. So I did something very old-fashioned: I wrote a letter to the director of the Palmer Museum of Art, asking for an update. We'll see if she responds.