At the turn of the last century everybody was saying photography killed painting. Now it seems photography has killed itself in an effort to be more like painting. The first time around the killing was all about representation and which medium was better suited to depict the physical world. Painting lost and went abstract. The second killing is all about process, and if there was blood to be shed, it would be all over the Robert and Joyce Menschel Photography Gallery where New Photography is on view.
Photography, in traditional terms, is a subtractive medium. Every snap of the shutter subtracts a subject from the larger world. The whole idea of “framing” a scene is embodied in this concept. By comparison painters begin with a blank canvas and add to it. Their process is one of building up layers upon layers; it’s essentially constructive. None of the six photographers in the New Photography exhibition have to go out in the world to make pictures anymore. They can create like painters, and stay in their studios.
Sterling Ruby is an artist who works in many mediums, but like Thomas Demand said, “if you use a different language everyday, you lose the nuances and are only able to employ headlines.” That’s exactly where Ruby is at, blasting out one headline after the next. On the other side of the coin Danny Gordon and Walead Beshty both make wickedly contemporary photos, but with a cleverness that links their work closely to their predecessors.
Beshty’s abstract images are all about light, chemicals, and paper—the basic formula pretty much from the beginning. Beshty needs no camera, instead it’s all about darkroom techniques where chance and accidents produce something bright and colorful. (note: it was a chance that produced the accident that enabled Daguerre to essentially invent photography.) Gordon also takes advantage of paper and light, but with a different twist. He builds sets out of paper—for example a nude on bed—and lights them gorgeously.
Sara VanDerBeek, Carter Mull, and Leslie Hewitt all make photographs of photographs, though with more poetic subtlety than Richard Prince was ever capable of. This exhibition doesn’t simply mark a new generation of photographers; it marks a whole new generation of photography.
Images: Walead Beshty, Three Color Curl (2008), C-print; Danny Gordon, Danny Nude Portrait (2008), C-print. Courtesy Museum of Modern Art.
 Demand, Thomas, and Obrist, Hans Ulrich. The Conversation Series # 10. Verlag der Buchhandlung Walther Konig, Koln: Germany, 2007.