Art Out: Aperture Photographs
By Ashley Yu
As a timeline for the progression of photography, the myriad work on view in the collection Aperture Photographs is a display on the talent of visual storytelling that provides a platform, as well as gallery representation, for artists and photographers alike.
The exhibition charts not only the evolution of photography, but of Aperture Foundation as well, first established in 1952. The contemporary works of Tyler Mitchell from Vogue sit across from the ethereal photographs of Edward Steichen as a confrontation between the past and the present, between those that have paved the path for photography as an art form and those that strive to expand it. Though the forms of photography displayed are seemingly disparate, the underlying thread that runs through the space, at the expense of sounding horrifically cliché, is humanity. Either thrumming with vitality or brazenly eccentric, the images of people are full of passion or hauntingly beautiful in the absence of it.
The landscapes are emotionally poignant and subtly ethereal with rarely a human soul in sight. In Chloe Dewe Matthews’ “Door to Hell”, the long shot reveals a burning crater, flames licking up the near-perfect circular hole in the ground. Surrounded by barren stretches of dust and sand, a lone, minuscule bike rider races out of the frame. Humanity is not completely absent in the image; instead we are left with the remnants of human interference, the beautifully eerie aftermath of failed oil-mining. We see this poignancy also in Edward Steichen’s “Moonrise”, where the lake’s reflection of the woods glow green as the sun sinks beneath the horizon. Morose yet gorgeous, Steichen’s image is the subtle grace that can only be found in the absence of noisy human beings.
Yet on the other side of the wall hangs numerous portraits of people, who encapsulate the jouissance of being young and vulnerable. Pieter Hugo’s image appears more like a boudoir photo, with a black man lounging on sensuous red velvet sheets, matching the man’s red beaded necklace. It is provocative in the man’s confident sensuality, in the sexuality that has historically been denied or over-fetishised in people of color. Displaying intimacy or sexual openness is both daunting and vulnerable, for it is a display of one’s humanity, of a crucial element of your identity to be dissected by the public eye. That is why Ethan James Green’s monochromatic image of two girls mid-kiss is so eye-catching. Taken in side profile, the faces of the two women sit stark center of the frame. Yet we all know how such images are simultaneously weaponized for a political agenda and evoke ‘controversy’ amongst the prejudiced, despite the leaps and bounds the LGBTQ community has made in recent years. With their eyes closed and hair mussed from the wind, the image is simply a display of tenderness between two women.
Humanity has always been inexplicably chaotic, noisy, lively, and awfully beautiful. Aperture Photographs exhibit the many photographers who have captured the haunting beauty of our world, as well as the many elements that make us want to live.