“Photography: A Focus on the Figure” Exhibition

Baruch College/Sidney Mishkin Gallery

poster for “Photography: A Focus on the Figure” Exhibition
[Image: Garry Winogrand "Beverley Hills, California" (1980)]

This event has ended.

The Mishkin Gallery at Baruch College presents the exhibition, Photography: A Focus on the Figure.

From images celebrating our individual or collective identity to narratives of war and displacement, photography jolts our imagination and our world view. The power of photography includes its ability to function as a visual narrative that can document social, cultural, and historical events, and also to retain the impact of its “message” for generations. Gilles Peress’s photographs, including his Rwandan Hutu refugees waiting for medical attention in Benaco, Tanzania in 1994, document war and trauma around the world. Peress’s images not only provide historical records, but they also provide a lasting emotional impact. In a 1997 interview, Gilles Peress talked about the purpose of his work: “I’m gathering evidence for history, so that we remember.” In addition, Peress’s photographs also fight false accounts or “fake news” by providing photographs of actual – and sometimes dangerous – events. Women dominate as subjects in many of the images, especially in the case of the works of female photographers such as Fran Antmann’s Funeral Procession, San Pedro la Laguna, Guatemala and Candace Scharsu’s Female child soldier branded by Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels.

The human figure provides the most familiar subject of photography and its visual narratives. In the mid-19th century, the earliest photographs were usually portraits, but 20th-century and 21st-century photographers have given the figure new and sometimes unexpected meanings. As familiar as it is, the figure can startle us when it is made the focus of a photographic image. Perhaps because photographs are presumed to record the “real” world, we are jarred when the photographer’s intentions and conceptual framework manipulate or even reconstruct the natural world. We are also jarred when the narrative context of the photograph adds a disturbing meaning to the figure. From images celebrating the beauty of the human body to narratives of horrific events, photography often creates a more convincing reality than text.

With a broad range of photographs of the figure, this exhibition examines the meaning we attribute to the human figure when a photographer presents it as a subject, an object, or as part of a narrative. The selection of photographs range from whimsical to disturbing, from traditional subject portraits to images of figures that actually are “objects”—mannequins, or even shadows or body parts. Women’s bodies are objectified or abstracted in works by Manuel Alvarez Bravo or Lucien Clergue, where the individual identity of the subjects is erased and the bodies of the women become something more akin to landscape.

Thirty-seven photographs, both color and black and white, make up Photography: Focus on the Figure. Photographers whose work is represented include Fran Antmann, Manuel Alvarez Bravo, Larry Clark, Lucien Clergue, Elliott Erwitt, Larry Fink, Donna Ferrato, Ralph Gibson, Milt Hinton, Jerome Liebling, Gilles Peress, Candace Scharsu, Neil Slavin, Edward Steichen, Andy Warhol, Carrie Mae Weems, and Garry Winogrand.


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