In a market swollen with stills, an increasing number of photographers are experimenting with sculpture, installation art, and video as alternative photographic practices. This phenomenon was evident among a group of burgeoning artists at the 2016 School of Visual Arts (SVA) Master of Fine Arts Photography, Video, and Related Media Thesis Exhibition, where, in July, a majority of students opted to present pieces outside of the frame.
Hope Antonella Guzzo displayed a series of photographic still lifes—preserved fruit peels, a head of hair—while Erin Davis’s iridescent Vitreophobia was similar to the post-internet digi-collages by Joshua Citarella or a neon-noir nightscape by Signe Pierce (or some hybrid of both)—except that it was a mixed-media and video installation, and you could walk into it.
“Students no longer feel as urgently connected to the history of photography,” SVA educator, art historian, and the show’s curator, Bonnie Yochelson, told me. “Fewer and fewer students are showing traditional, framed prints in the thesis shows, instead experimenting with installation.”
Even the works of Citarella and Pierce have something undeniably Web 2.0 about them, as if with the rise of smartphone photography came the loss of dimensional backward-compatibility and there is no going back to static images, only dynamic, experiential presentation. Swedish long-exposure photographer Jacob Felländer is also breaking free of the frame, pursuing—dare I say 4D— virtual reality versions of once-flat images, which the artist will one day invite viewers to explore.
“The impulse to physicalize or sculpturize photographs comes from the increasingly screen-based experience we have with images,” suggested New School associate professor of photography Arthur Ou. “Our daily encounter with them seems to be more and more tied to the network, to something emanating from devices, therefore non-material, and intangible.”
As, compared with photography, the other fine arts (specifically painting and sculpture) command higher prices on the art market, “Perhaps the drive to extend the photograph into dimensional space comes out of the desire for [photographers] to take on the presence and aura of paintings or sculptures.”
2D or not 2D? For photographers today, that is the question.