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Photo ArtReview - Photo Art
Photography in the 21st Century
by Uta Grosenick and Thomas Seelig (Editors)
Aperture, 2008
Review by Christian Perring
Oct 20th 2008 (Volume 12, Issue 43)

There have been several collections of new art photography in recent years.  Vitamin Ph and Art Photography Now are two notable examples.  PHOTOart outdoes both these collections in page count, coming in at a hefty 519 pages with 112 photographers represented, although according to Amazon.com, it weighs about one pound less than Vitamin Ph.  The organization is straightforward: the photographers are presented alphabetically, with four pages each.  The first page generally gives the name, date of birth, place of birth and current main location, web page addresses, and about half a page of writing about the photographer by one of the set of writers used by the editors.  The following 3 pages have one or two representative images each. 

Most of the photographers are in their thirties or forties.  They are mostly from north America, south America, Europe, and Asia. In the Preface, the editors describe the book as a "comprehensive survey of photography in the early 21st century," but of course, it isn't.  As the book's title makes explicit, it is about art, not science, nature, sports, or sex.  Compared to those other collections, this is a braver collection: it doesn't contain any photographers who will be moderately familiar to the casual fan of recent art photography; that means there is no work by Cindy Sherman, Jeff Wall, Gregory Crewdson, or Martin Parr, for example.  Most of the contributors probably will be unfamiliar to those who are not themselves part of the photography art scene themselves.  It is inevitably rather arbitrary who ends up in a collection like this: there are hundreds of interesting photographers working today, so to bring down the number of photographers to a hundred or so of them means that some of one's personal favorites may not be in the book. 

With only 3 or 4 photographs per photographer, it can be hard to form a strong impression of what their work is about or its range, but browsing the book can inspire one to do some exploring on the Internet, and for most, there is at least one website with samples of their photography.  It is as easy book to browse, with enough information about each photographer to give you a basic understanding of their background, without going into too much detail.  There is plenty of variety here, with a wide range of different kinds of work.  The editors favor visually interesting work over conceptual work, and the book is a pleasure for the eyes.  Surprisingly, the photography of cities and buildings often stands out, including that of Seung Woo Back, Olivo  Barbieri, Luisa Lambri, Sze Tsung Leong, Rut Blees Luxemburg, John Riddy, Frank Van Der Salm, and Michael Wesley.  These photographers provide insight into the ways that our built environment structures our lives, and are often at the same time visually arresting. 

Some of the work is staged or digitally manipulated, making surprising images that can provoke.  The images of Kelli Connell show a lesbian couple, who are in fact the same woman, duplicated.  This is both funny and disturbing.  Zbigniew Libera recreates news and advertising images in ways that distort and improve upon the truth.  The images of Aneta Grzeszykowska are obviously posed, and trade in a certain awkwardness.  It's not feasible to list all the photographers who can be classified in this area.  Similarly, it isn't helpful to try to list all the other sorts of work that are covered in the book.

PHOTOart is a strong collection.  It makes one optimistic about the current art photography scene, because it shows that a great deal of interesting work is being done.  As a sampler, the book whets the appetite for more.

A Few Random Links:

© 2008 Christian Perring

Christian Perring, Associate Professor of Philosophy, Dowling College, New York.


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