The Photography Department launched its fall 2016 lecture series on September 15 with a talk by David Campany, curator of the critically acclaimed exhibition a Handful of Dust, which is on view in the Pratt Photography Gallery after being shown at Le Bal, a contemporary photography museum in Paris. The talk, which drew a large audience to Higgins Hall, was followed by an opening reception in the Pratt Photography Gallery.
The exhibition’s starting point is Man Ray’s 1920 photograph of dust on the surface of Marcel Duchamp’s sculpture, the Large Glass. a Handful of Dust explores the strange history of the photograph, which has reappeared in many different contexts over the decades. With works by Man Ray, Walker Evans, Wols, Sophie Ristelhueber, Jeff Wall, and others, it looks at connections ranging from the American Dust Bowl to the Middle East and asks whether a history can be assembled from the perspective of dust.
Campany, who is an artist, editor, and writer as well as a curator, showed images from his earlier projects and highlighted ideas that relate to a Handful of Dust. He spoke about the tension in photography over whether an image is an artwork, a document (such as a news photograph or postcard), or both. He mentioned that he finds images from a range of sources, including online, where he discovered the 1970s American gas shortage photographs featured in his book, Gasoline, and the Dust Bowl postcards included in a Handful of Dust.
“One can think of photographs as things that have biographies,” he said, speaking of how photographs are bought and sold, and how they resurface in different contexts. For example, Man Ray’s dust photograph has reappeared numerous times, including in a magazine labeled as an aerial reconnaissance photograph, and later as a background image on the cover of a surrealist magazine.
Campany also encouraged students in the audience to “step out of who you think you are” because it can be very useful for the creative process. He discovered this himself when he worked on Lee Cluderay, a project made in collaboration with Polly Braden in which he created the biography of a fictional artist and then made works “by” her.
The talk ended with a short question and answer session before the crowd headed to the Pratt Photography Gallery to view the show and continue the conversation. Campany signed copies of his book, a Handful of Dust, at the reception. The book was recently shortlisted as Catalogue of the Year by Paris Photo—Aperture Foundation PhotoBook Awards.
a Handful of Dust will be on view at the Pratt Photography Gallery in the ARC Building through December 2, 2016, before traveling to Whitechapel Gallery in London and the Moderna Museet in Stockholm.