WASHINGTON, D.C. – Although photography is synonymous with documenting reality rather than altering it, the collection of Robert E. Meyerhoff and Rheda Becker challenges this notion by presenting photographs that redefine the medium.
The exhibit, entitled “Photography Reinvented,” is a collection of 35 photographs by 18 critically acclaimed artists. Rather than simply capturing a single moment in time, some of these photos create an altered sense of reality.
Some of the photos in this exhibit distort reality in a number of different ways, whether it is photographically altering the picture itself, posing subjects in a fashion that create a false perception, or using materials that replicate photographic techniques.
For example, Vik Muniz’s “Noon Rush Hour on Fifth Avenue, 1949, After Andreas Feininger (Pictures of Paper)” takes Feininger’s photo “Lunch Hour on Fifth Avenue” and replicates its shape and tone by layering cutouts of paper on top of each other.
The result is an image that appears like a blown-up version of Feininger’s original photo: the shadows and outlines of the subjects in the photo are heavily saturated and blurred, turning the chaotic picture into a disorienting abstraction of the city.
Another photo that toys with the perception of reality is Thomas Demand’s “Sink.”
Although at a first glance the photo appears to be of a spotless stainless steel sink filled with cups and dishes, the geometric forms and luminous liquids of the subjects appear a little too perfect.
“Sink” is really a picture of cardboard cutouts and plastics made to appear like metal and glass, temporarily tricking the viewer and evoking the idea of surface appearance rather than substantial reality.
Vera Lutter’s “World Trade Center 7, III: October 30, 2007” is a photo of World Trade Center 7, which survived the September 11 Attacks.
Tonally and laterally reversed, the photo disorients a famous landmark to reflect on the sadness of the attacks and a world turned inside-out by terrorism.
Three of Japanese-born photographer Hiroshi Sugimoto are on display at this exhibit.
One of his photos, entitled “Anne Boleyn”, is a part of a series of photos depicting the wax sculptures of King Henry VIII and his wives at the Madame Tussauds wax museum.
By isolating the figure of Boleyn from its environment, posing it in a three-quarter-length view, and making the print nearly six feet tall, the wax figure appears life-like as it poses for the camera, representing a historical subject as an animated being.
Other photos are a portrait study of its subject. Bernd and Hilla Becher’s “Water Towers” are a series of photos depicting the unique yet similar design of water towers in a systematic fashion, all of them under an overcast sky and absent of people.
According to the description, the Bechers believed that just as medieval Europe was symbolized by Gothic cathedrals, the modern age is revealed in technological buildings and devices. Because of this, the couple dedicated themselves to photographing industrial architecture that was rapidly disappearing for over 50 years.
Richard Avedon’s “Marilyn Monroe, actor, New York, May 6, 1957” is a photo of the celebrity after Avedon’s promotional shoot for her latest film. Although Monroe dutifully played the role of sex symbol during the shoot, Avedon recalls that afterwards, “she sat in a corner like a child, with everything gone”, which can be seen in the photo.
Many more photos in “Photography Reinvented” that reform perceptions of reality can be seen upon visiting this exhibit, some of them employing radical-looking editing techniques while others place the subject in juxtaposition with its environment. Due to the varying styles of photography and technique, each set of photos are very unique.
“Photography Reinvented: The Collection of Robert E. Meyerhoff and Rheda Becker” is located in the National Gallery of Art’s East Building on the Upper Level West Bridge.
Address: Located between 3rd and 9th Streets along Constitution Avenue NW, Washington, D.C. 20001.
Free admission. Exhibit runs through March 5, 2017.
NGA hours: Monday–Saturday: 10 a.m. – 5 p.m., Sunday: 11 a.m. – 6 p.m.