Pratt’s Photography Department launched the exhibition The pure products of America go crazy on October 7 with an evening featuring contemporary artists Lucas Blalock and John Lehr, assistant professor of photography at Pratt, in conversation with Joshua Chuang, chief curator at the Center for Creative Photography in Tucson, Arizona.
The title of the exhibition comes from a William Carlos Williams poem (“To Elsie”) and includes work by Blalock, Lehr, and Owen Kydd as well as photographs by Walker Evans, Pratt alumna Jan Groover (BFA Painting, ’65), and Aaron Siskind. The show, which was spotlighted in Surface magazine’s “The Best of” listings, will be on view in the Pratt Photography Gallery through November 20.
“I am delighted to have the show travel to Pratt, which has such a strong tradition of educating photographers,” said Chuang, who curated the exhibition, which was on display at the Center for Creative Photography earlier this year. “It’s my hope that the visual dialogue between pictures old and new sparks dialogue not only about how we’ve arrived at this particular moment in the medium’s history, but also about where we may be going next.”
The exhibition’s photographic images explore the accumulated commercial byproducts of an American way of life. A number of the images, depicting American storefronts and everyday objects, were projected behind the speakers during the talk. Lehr addressed the significance of American identity in his work, speaking of his interest in photographing what he referred to as “an ecosystem of commerce” and cheap, plastic trinkets that he sees as “coded objects.”
The conversation turned to the photographers’ relationship to shifts in photographic technology. Both Blalock and Lehr capture their images on film and process them in Photoshop. When the panelists were prompted by Chuang to discuss their stance on digital versus film photography, Lehr spoke excitedly about the possibilities created by digital post-production, saying, “This is a completely new way of making a picture.” Blalock explained his photo-making process as “using the camera as a drawing tool.”
The curation of the photographs in the Pratt Photography Gallery was also discussed. Chuang said that he reached out to Pratt faculty and students for help arranging the images. The photographs were laid out horizontally in the two-room gallery space, rather than stacked on top of one another, so that each photograph is able to speak for itself while still existing in a coherent sequence.
Following the talk, the photographers joined members of the audience in the Pratt Photography Gallery for the opening reception of the exhibition, which was attended by 250 guests.
On October 27, Kydd held a gallery walk-through of the exhibition with students and members of the public, and his work is also currently on view in a group show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Blalock’s work is being featured in the exhibition Ocean of Images: New Photography 2015, which opened on November 3 at the Museum of Modern Art.
Image: Installation view of The pure products of America go crazy exhibition at the Photography Gallery, ARC Building (photo by Andy Todd)