Books

'Shape of Light' Shines in the Space Where Photographic Art Bleeds into Wider Art

There's a wealth of work on display in Shape of Light, from the Tate Modern's exhibit, perhaps one of the finest general collections of abstract photographs currently available in print form.

Shape of Light: 100 Years of Photography and Abstract Art
Simon Baker and Emmanuelle de l'ECotais, eds.

Tate Publishing / Artbook &

Jun 2018

Other

From May to October 2018, the Tate Modern in London presented an exhibition titled Shape of Light: 100 Years of Photography and Abstract Art, examining relationships between abstraction in fine art and photographic practice. The exhibition featured an array of photographs curated for the show, with relevant examples of abstract art from the Tate's collection. The book, Shape of Light, serves as the companion volume to that exhibition.

A generous collection of reproduced photographs, colour and black and white, are sequenced according to a linear timeline spanning the decades of the past 100 years, presented in four sections and prefaced by short contextual essays. While not exactly definitive or concentrated, what this volume does offer, as did the exhibition, is a curated overview with a wealth of illustration serving to authoritatively define and display the intersection of photographic artistic practice with that of the wider practice of art, with comparative reproductions from different medium displayed occasionally side-by-side. Two broad abstract tendencies are displayed as they recur through the decades: abstraction via purposeful framing of material reality, and abstraction via deliberate or accidental manipulation of the photographic process. These generalized tendencies can be said to represent, as explained in the first essay examining the beginnings of the modern art movement(s), approaches which can usefully be labelled "rational" or "impulsive".

The collected photographs begin in 1910, picking up on the work of Alfred Stieglitz and his Photo-Secession movement, the first intersection between photography and modern art. Stieglitz championed a shift in photography from the pictorial towards modernism, in concert with the new works in sculpture and painting from Paris, which he was exhibiting at his Manhattan studio, and which directly influenced the Photo-Secessionist work. The photographs appearing in Stieglitz's journal, Camera Work, and that of others from similarly inspired movements in Europe, found much inspiration in the modern city, which rewarded abstract aspirations with new perspectives discovered through the opportunities for unique frames offered by imaginative lens placement of the ever-smaller cameras.

(courtesy of Amazon)

Meanwhile, other artists experimented with "photograms", positioning objects on light-sensitive paper -- work identified with Dada and later the Surrealists, particularly Man Ray's experiments in the '20s. Further, the constructivist László Moholy-Nagy, worked his photograms as impressions of light rather than objects. Therefore, approaches to abstraction became a common feature of fine-art photography, and many of the years' worth of reproductions included in this volume refer in some way to the tendencies developed in the '10s and '20s.

The Tate exhibition consciously joined a lineage of earlier group shows such as Abstraction in Photography (MOMA 1951), The Sense of Abstraction (MOMA 1960), and Generative Photography (Bielefeld 1968). The two Museum of Modern Art exhibitions, effectively bookending a decade in which "abstract" art practice reached a zenith, are contextualized as "evidence not of a sudden conversion to photography's powers of abstraction… but of the inevitable consequence of the combined lessons learned" from previous decades. Formal and technical similarities, moreover, could be discerned from different work originating from different locales across the planet, a sign that "photography had become capable of expressing different subjectivities through the same processes of organized defamiliarization (close ups, cropping, negative printing, double exposures and so on)." Subjective diversity expressed through similar processes could be said to be an organizing principle in the collected reproductions featured in this volume. The contextual essays identify preoccupying concerns related to their specific time period, but the collected photos in total can be appreciated anew at each essay's conclusion.

There's a wealth of work on display, perhaps one of the finest general collections of abstract photographs currently available in print form. If seeing just two examples of Edward Ruscha's wonderful "Parking Lots In Los Angeles" series (1967) might seem incomplete, the reader previously unfamiliar has at least been pointed in its direction. The fine essays, even as they tend to the academic, provide both context and clarity to the works themselves, as well as the philosophical and practical intentions over time. The ability to trace the rational and the impulsive, seen across a century of practice, will benefit interests heralded by the exhibition's title (photography and abstract art), and will do so in a manner which is less overtly directed and more realized by the viewer/reader.

(courtesy of Arbook &)

8
Music


Books


Film


Recent
Books

90 Years on 'Olivia' Remains a Classic of Lesbian Literature

It's good that we have our happy LGBTQ stories today, but it's also important to appreciate and understand the daunting depths of feeling that a love repressed can produce. In Dorothy Strachey's case, it produced the masterful Olivia.

Music

Indie Rocker Alpha Cat Presents 'Live at Vox Pop' (album stream)

A raw live set from Brooklyn in the summer of 2005 found Alpha Cat returning to the stage after personal tumult. Sales benefit organizations seeking to end discrimination toward those seeking help with mental health issues.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

A Lesson from the Avengers for Our Time of COVID-19

Whereas the heroes in Avengers: Endgame stew for five years, our grief has barely taken us to the after-credit sequence. Someone page Captain Marvel, please.

Music

Between the Grooves of Nirvana's 'Nevermind'

Our writers undertake a track-by-track analysis of the most celebrated album of the 1990s: Nirvana's Nevermind. From the surprise hit that brought grunge to the masses, to the hidden cacophonous noise-fest that may not even be on your copy of the record, it's all here.

Music

Deeper Graves Arrives via 'Open Roads' (album stream)

Chrome Waves, ex-Nachtmystium man Jeff Wilson offers up solo debut, Open Roads, featuring dark and remarkable sounds in tune with Sisters of Mercy and Bauhaus.

Featured: Top of Home Page

The 50 Best Albums of 2020 So Far

Even in the coronavirus-shortened record release schedule of 2020, the year has offered a mountainous feast of sublime music. The 50 best albums of 2020 so far are an eclectic and increasingly "woke" bunch.

Books

First Tragedy, Then Farce, Then What?

Riffing off Marx's riff on Hegel on history, art historian and critic Hal Foster contemplates political culture and cultural politics in the age of Donald Trump in What Comes After Farce?

Reviews

HAIM Create Their Best Album with 'Women in Music Pt. III'

On Women in Music Pt. III, HAIM are done pretending and ready to be themselves. By learning to embrace the power in their weakest points, the group have created their best work to date.

Music

Amnesia Scanner's 'Tearless' Aesthetically Maps the Failing Anthropocene

Amnesia Scanner's Tearless aesthetically maps the failing Anthropocene through its globally connected features and experimental mesh of deconstructed club, reggaeton, and metalcore.

Music

How Lasting Is the Legacy of the Live 8 Charity Concert?

A voyage to the bottom of a T-shirt drawer prompts a look back at a major event in the history of celebrity charity concerts, 2005's Live 8, Philadelphia.

Music

Jessie Ware Embraces Her Club Culture Roots on Rapturous 'What's Your Pleasure?'

British diva Jessie Ware cooks up a glittery collection of hedonistic disco tracks and delivers one of the year's best records with What's Your Pleasure.

Music

Paul Weller Dazzles with the Psychedelic and Soulful 'On Sunset'

Paul Weller's On Sunset continues his recent streak of experimental yet tuneful masterworks. More than 40 years into his musical career, Weller sounds as fresh and inspired as ever.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.