Featuring the refreshing works of 10 recent photography graduates, Yale University’s Master of Fine Arts of Photography 2016 thesis exhibition is aptly titled Reviver. Recently opened at Chicago’s Johalla Projects, the traveling show seeks to present pictures that, with historical and cultural resonance, expand on the traditional possibilities of the two-dimensional plane. Reviver thus provides a glimpse into the future of contemporary photography.
“Reviver is a container for 10 subjectively original meditations from the 2016 Yale MFA graduates on where and how the legacy of photography can be brought to bear on the idea of photography as an independent art form,” writes exhibition curator, Charlotte Cotton, a visiting critic in Yale’s MFA photography program and the current curator in residence at the International Center of Photography. “I‘m struck by the singularity of the choice of the title—a word that contains and embodies their shared aims for the ongoing exploration of photographic thinking.”
By blending installation and photography, several of the emerging artists create art that questions the traditional framing of photographs. John Edmonds’ installation, All Eyes On Me, features 12 photographs of one figure in the same pose, an exploration of identity and sexuality. The repetition heightens the visibility of the black male subject by forcing the viewer to consider things often missed in a single viewing of a portrait. Monique Atherton’s Untitled Portrait of the Artist by William Sacco on the Hood of a 1970 Chevelle SS, which is just that, affirms that the future of photography is, in part, frameless. Objects can play a role in connecting the image to evoke memories or form an activation that increases the legibility of the art.
Other artists in the show make conscious choices to map photographic thinking around identity. Eva O’ Leary’s Untitled, shows a group of right fist-raised, shirtless white and Asian men. It captures a moment that is reflective of the wave of identity politics sweeping art and society today. Robin Myers' surrealist photographs reconfigures bodies. The works 14 Mouths and Orange Three, are photographs of the body as parts to be played with, reflecting a deep sense of gender and sexual fluidity.
The interests of the photographers in the show are varied. Adam Pape’s reportage photos seem to be concerned with documenting particular street scenes that gather meaning from their mundane nature. Eagle pictures a street lined with cars, houses, and leafless trees that stand out because America’s national bird sits on top of one. Eli Durst plays with the conventions of black-and-white photography in Bruce and Birds, two works that ambiguously capture images inside an office park building. Ye Weon Kim applies traditional practices employed in landscape photography on the human body in Sleeping Mother. Sara Cwynar takes up the experiential qualities of photography to explore the ways a body interacts with fabric.
“Each of the artists represented here made their commitment to explore in depth the gloriously uneven, sometimes latent, often rich prospects within the medium,” writes Cotton. “Their work negotiates a position and a stake in the unfolding of photography’s story: both in what can be recalibrated from its historical precedents and also the range of positions that self-proclaimed photographers can take within our image-centric landscape.
What the show seems to have successfully revived is the idea that photographs are among the best ways for art to allow the multitude of lived experiences to be perceived, ordered, and ultimately recorded. In the exhibition statement, Cotton writes, “I salute these 10 artists for their revival of photography’s pluralism: collectively reinforcing the regained vigor of the photographic."
Reviver: Yale MFA Photo 2016 runs through July 22 at Johalla Projects. For more information, click here.