After Photoshop: Manipulated Photography in the Digital Age
September 25, 2012–May 27, 2013
Over the past twenty years, photography has undergone a dramatic transformation. Mechanical cameras and silver-based film have been replaced by electronic image sensors and microchips. Instead of shuffling through piles of glossy prints, we stare at the glowing screens of laptops, tablets, and mobile phones. Negative enlargers and chemical darkrooms have given way to personal computers and image-processing software. Photographers have always used manual techniques to alter their images, but digital cameras and applications such as Adobe Photoshop have made the process quicker, easier, and more accessible to many more people—both amateurs and professionals—than ever before.
Today, the manipulation of photographic images is ubiquitous—in magazines and advertising, in police work and medical imaging, and increasingly in the snapshots of vacations, weddings, and graduations that we email to friends and family and upload to social-networking websites. It is not surprising that artists have seized upon these new tools to realize their visions and to spur reflection on the medium’s past, present, and future.
This exhibition presents a selection of photographs and video in which artists have used digital technology from the 1980s to the present to modify and transform the camera image or, in some cases, to generate convincingly realistic photographs with no real-world counterparts. Whether imagining alternate realities, reinterpreting classic works of art, or exuberantly defying the laws of gravity, these artists and others are pointing the way toward a new conception of photography as a malleable medium with an exquisitely complex relationship to visual truth.
1. Maria Marshall
When I Grow Up I Want To Be A Cooker, 1988
Marshall’s mesmerizing scenarios of maternal fear and dread strike at the heart of Western culture’s commodification of childhood. For this work, she shot film footage of her two-year-old son playing with a fake cigarette and added wisps, rings, and puffs of smoke, generated using Hollywood special-effects software.
2. Thomas Ruff
Nudes ree07, 2000
The source images in Ruff’s “nudes” series were culled from the sea of pornography that floods the Internet. The artist, who often works with appropriated imagery, downloaded the pictures and manipulated them on his computer, intensifying colors, blurring outlines, and greatly enlarging the scale. At once visually ravishing and provocatively blunt, the photographs address the collapse between public and private in contemporary culture as well as the tradition of voyeuristic delectation inspired by the many pictures of female flesh hanging in this or any other art museum.
3. Bradley Rubenstein
Untitled (Girl with Puppy Dog Eyes), 1996
In the mid-1990s, amid debates concerning new developments in cloning, genetic engineering, stem-cell research, and interspecies tissue grafting, Rubenstein created a provocative series of photographs in which he digitally inserted dogs’ eyes into school yearbook portraits of children. Merging two paragons of cuteness—kids and puppies—into unsettling hybrids, the artist offers an eerie forewarning of the transgressive potential of genetic manipulation.
4. Jason Salavon
Portrait (Hals), 2009
Using software he designs himself, Salavon produces typological averages of related images such as Playboy centerfolds, high-school yearbook portraits, and Old Master paintings. To create this photograph, which was inspired by the Metropolitan Museum’s Dutch Golden Age painting galleries, the artist gathered high-quality reproductions of portraits by Frans Hals. He then used an open-source programming language to generate the paintings’ mathematical average. The result is an impressionistic composite that reveals the hidden norm lurking within the Dutch master’s oeuvre.
5. Filip Dujardin
In 2007 Dujardin, a professional architectural photographer, decided he wanted to design buildings of his own rather than merely document those built by others. Since then he has been crafting photographs of imaginary structures, unconstrained by functional necessities or the laws of physics. He begins by creating a virtual structure using Google SketchUp—a simple three-dimensional modeling tool—then uses Photoshop to layer on surfaces sampled from his own photographs of buildings in his hometown of Ghent, Belgium, manually adjusting colors, shadows, and contrast. The photographs, composed of hundreds of source images, are beguilingly subtle—just real enough to be believable and just fantastic enough to stimulate the imagination.
6. Debbie Grossman
Jessie Evans-Whinery, Homesteader, with Her Wife Edith Evans-Whinery and Their Baby, 2010
In 1940, at the tail end of the Depression, Russell Lee, a photographer working for the Farm Security Administration, documented a small community of homesteaders in Pie Town, New Mexico. Seventy years later, Grossman appropriated and reworked these images to fashion an alternative Pie Town—one inhabited exclusively by women. Using Photoshop, she altered the features of men to make them appear more effeminate, modified the placement and body language of pairs of women to suggest a sense of intimacy, and erased some male figures altogether. Just as Lee’s original photographs offered an idealized view of Western agrarian life, Grossman’s imaginative revision is intended as a lighthearted form of propaganda—a utopian fantasy in which gender roles are fluid and the traditional idea of family is redefined.
7. Nancy Burson
Warhead I, 1982
Gelatin silver print
Burson was among the first artists to apply digital technology to the genre of photographic portraiture. In the late 1970s she began working with computer scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to develop software that could be used to “age” a human face.
By the early 1980s she was digitally blending the faces of groups of individuals to produce composite portraits of stock types such as businessmen, movie stars, and assassins. This composite was created using images of five world leaders, each represented proportionally by the number of nuclear warheads deployable by the nation they led: Ronald Reagan (55%), Leonid Brezhnev (45%), Margaret Thatcher (less than 1%), François Mitterand (less than 1%), and Deng Xiaoping (less than 1%).
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