Photography has the power to depict ‘true’ and direct images of reality as witnessed by the photographer, but it doubles as a tool capable of documenting that which eyes cannot see. Some of the most compelling images depict not just fact, but thoughts, emotions, scientific phenomena, mysterious events and unbelievable occurrences. Whether by accident or intent, photographs have the ability to give shape to the inaccessible, the invisible and the incomprehensible. In this expansive and impressive group show “odd, tingly and sometimes profound” photographs by artists and amateurs represent all manner of ‘unphotographable’ subject matter, pulling the viewer along for a deeply engaging ride through photographic history.
On my first passage through the show, I failed to recognize the Gerhard Richter pigment print as an image of the Twin Towers mid-disaster on 9/11. The zoomed-in image, blurred and obscured by horizontal brushstrokes, serves as an attempt to capture the violence and enormity of that moment. In contrast, Malcolm W. Browne’s iconic (but humbly-sized) photograph, Self-Immolation of Buddhist Monk Thich Quang Duc (1963), clearly represents a single moment in history that has come to stand for a much larger series of events, influences andstruggles.
In the final gallery, the show turns towards the spiritual, featuring a salon wall of spirit photography from 1880 to 1977. My favorite of these often-silly photographic fakes is a gelatin silver print by SORRAT (Society for Research in Rapport and Telekinesis) of a closely cropped levitating table. Other seemingly unphotographable subjects in the room include a caveman, the Loch Ness Monster and an apparition of Christ. Balancing against the humor is Sophie Calle’s beautifully evocative Autobiographies (The Obituary), a careful combination of text and photograph. And concluding the show, Glenn Ligon’s pure white print, He Tells Me I am His Own, is a perfect bookend to the first work in the show, Adam Fuss’ solid black Untitled.