I was fortunate to have had the opportunity to attend the Society for Photographic Education’s annual conference this year in Chicago. I have never been to Chicago before. It is truly an amazing city. The architecture is breathtaking (and I live in New York City so I know breathtaking when I see it). The conference was held at the Palmer House; the longest continually operating hotel in North America- open since 1871. Located in the historic district, it retains its Gilded Age aura in its grand lobby and opulently decorated guest rooms.
Martin Parr kicked off the event. His work is really beyond words. He made a futile attempt to go through his lifetime body of work in an hour or so, which was of course impossible. Pure photographic genius. But the highlight of the event was Mona Kuhn’s Embracing the Body. I have been a follower of hers for some time. She gave a fascinating talk about her process, how she works and what drives and motivates her. As an artist I found it very inspirational and moving. If for nothing else, Mona Kuhn made the entire trip worth-while. Mona Karsa from the University of Texas in Dallas spoke about The emergent Image. It was a fascinating talk about new medias like cell phone imagery, and how and why an image or video can go viral. Important information for anyone involved in photography today. It was a great talk! One of the keynote speakers was Richard Misrach. Personally, I found his earlier work to be much more interesting. His latter work I found boring and even amateurish at times. I know I will get some emails on this one, but I wasn’t too impressed with his bodies floating in the water, people on the beach, etc. He says he has gone all digital now, and shoots with an ultra telephoto lens, from the terrace of his condo in Hawaii. He photographs couples on the beach, people floating in the water, surfers etc. His earlier work was much more edgy and powerful. In my opinion, this newer work just screams “rich old dude with an expensive camera”. Its not voyeuristic, it’s just boring (especially when one compares this to his work in the desert and the environmental projects) I think Misrach is a very talented artist. He has an impressive and successful body of work. I just don’t care for the photos from his terrace. I think its too “safe”. He is capable of better.
The conference sold out early this year. There was hardly any breathing room at most of the events. This I found disturbing. I personally don’t like crowds. On the final day of the conference we decided to forgo the conference and spend the entire day at the Art Institute of Chicago. A professor I was attending with put it so eloquently saying “why are we waisting our time here today fighting the crowds when just 2 blocks away lies one of the worlds most important art collections”! So off we went.
The Picasso exhibition that is currently on display is the big draw there for most of the tourists, however we spent most of our day in the photography section. The Irving Penn Underfoot series was killer! I was especially pleased to see they even included his camera in the exhibition (Hasselblad 501CM, 150mm lens, extension tubes, chair and all). Amazing body of work. Some of the highlights were Lutz Bacher, Alejandro Cesarco, Jerzy Lewczynski, William Klein, Diane Arbus, Robert Heinecken, Andre Kertesz, Daniel Brenner, Neil Armstrong and his Hasselblad on the moon, Cindy Sherman, Shizuka Yokomizo, Shimon Attie, Nicole Eisenman, Sue Williams, Scott Burton, of course Warhol’s Mao in its massive glory, Vija Celmins, David Hockney’s American Collectors was breathtaking, Richard Hamilton, Ed Ruscha, of course Gerhard Richter, Lee Bontecou, Charles Ray, and finally Picasso.