Just when we thought we were beginning to understand the medium of photography, The Thing Itself at Yancey Richardson Gallery strips us of all certainty of understanding. In our digitally instantaneous age, photography finds itself at a crossroads; what was once a certifiably material process has been transformed into one in which it is possible to have no physical or temporal qualities whatsoever. Film, darkroom, and print have been replaced, or at least transformed, by the widespread use of digital technology.

Under these circumstances, how are we to define photography? This is precisely the question behind The Thing Itself. In this summer group show, artists like Laurie Simmons, Kenneth Josephson, Matt Lipps, Bertien van Manen, and others explore photography itself as subject matter. These are meta-photographs. Each image is self-referential, bringing attention to its own making while at the same time challenging it at its very core. The images in this show present the intersection between the analog and digital worlds. Many refer to the physicality of camera hardware, photo paper, and vintage photographs, while others are composites of analog images or digital manipulations of the pages of an old darkroom manual. The underlying message, one of the impact of technology on visual art, is expressed through the art object.

Technology has changed the way photographers work and the work they produce. This is not to say that photography has transformed into an entirely new medium, or that the photographic object no longer has a place in the art world. Rather, the object, that is, the print we see hanging on the white gallery wall, is of increasing importance in the age of digital photography. Oftentimes the print is the only material element of an artist’s photographic process. It is a strange contradiction: the physical object serves to convey that materiality has been rendered insignificant in contemporary photography. Physical objects are all we have to signify the increasing distance between modern life and traditional art forms. Simultaneously, these photographs emphasize the continual evolution of the photographic medium.

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