the internet and the new face of photography

VS_POLCH_PUBEYE_CO_003James Polchin at The Smart Set:

What you notice in the historical movements of this show is how much the act of photographing has turned from public vision to private realities. Early works here rest often on travels. The 19th century French archeologist Désiré Charnay photographed ancient ruins in Mexico and the Yucatan. Maxime du Champ’s stark images of ruined temples and building facades from his many trips to Egypt, Palestine and Syria, shimmer in their distance and realism. Near these images sit American photographer Carleton Watkin’s expansive views of Yosemite in the 1860s. And just a few photographs from these we encounter two iconic 20th century images of Bernd and Hilla Becher’s German industrial silos from 1968, looking stoic and solemn. It is unclear how the Becher’s industrial countryside fit into the street views. This confusion underscores the shows frenetic movement across geographies and time periods. While the organization is clearly a walk through time with each section of the show, there is an unacknowledged history of interests and intents by the photographers here — an intent that defines what and how we are asked to see the world they present us.

Consider one of the first works in the Crowd Sourcing section: John Forbes Watson and John William Kaye’s book People of India. The book presents over 400 images of India. The particular page we look at is of three “low cast Hindoos” standing against a stone wall, holding roughly hewn sticks, and gazing into the camera looking uncomfortably confused. Watson and Kaye began this project in 1868, ten years after British rule was established in India. The photographs, the exhibition text tells us, were “taken by a dozen different photographers most of whom were government and military officials.” What are we to make of this historical fact?

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