Virtually the entire history of photography—daguerreotype to electrophotomicrography to digital technology—was represented when the 20th Association of International Photography Art Dealers show convened recently at the Hilton. This commercial survey annually draws scores of the world’s top dealers in fine art photography—specialists, generalists, and gallery owners assaying the market, its blue chips, its breakout talents and trends (note to collectors: don’t toss your family snapshots). Among the thousands of compelling images, those by four photographers caught the eye of one visitor, who wondered if the cliché might prove true that every picture has a story to tell.
Gary Schneider: Sperm (1997)
As critic Ann Thomas has observed, Gary Schneider’s Genetic Self-Portrait trumps both the expectations of the traditional portrait and our faith in inquiry by the naked eye. It does this by tracking identity in the body’s microcosm, “where the instructions for the self are encrypted.” Using auto radiogram, fluorescent-light microscropy, X ray, scanning electron microscope, nanoscope, and Fundus camera, Schneider has created a kind of occult self-portrait composed of supermagnified hair, DNA strands, individual tumor-suppressing genes, a spermatazoan, all counterposed with such recognizable integers of personhood as his eyes and hands. “Originally it was envisioned as this pristine response to Human Genome Project,” says Schneider, whose one-man show opened February 19 at the International Center of Photography. “I was given this opportunity to harvest my own biology. I could have access to all kinds of genetic scientists. The original response was selfish. What I didn’t expect was that, over the 18 months this took to do, I would have such an emotional response to what I was photographing, to the loss of privacy, to the fear of biology.” This image, of Schneider’s sperm, was prepared by California scientist Dr. Michael Allen using a nanoscope to make a digital topographical map. “Allen had told me that each sperm is unique, which ultimately you can see in this extraordinary image filled with all this data. I mean, it’s literally a portrait of my sperm.”
Michael Light: Untitled (July 26–August 7, 1971; Commander David Scott test-driving first manned lunar rover on Apollo 15’s first surface excursion)
“Michael Light is one of these guys who always thought NASA should have sent him to the moon,” explains Neil Folberg, director of the Vision Gallery, which represents the American photographer in Israel. “They didn’t, so he went to Houston and got them to let him rephotograph from the original dupe set. NASA keeps a master set of all their space photos. The first set of dupes, a copy set, is kept in a refrigerated vault and, before Light, they’d never released them. But Light’s a very persistent guy. He went through 32,000 negatives and made a choice, a photographic and artistic choice, not a scientific choice, of which images to reproduce. He chose for drama and visual strength, made his own dupes, scanned and printed them using digital technology.” The result of Light’s project, as he explains in his new book, Full Moon, unexpectedly reveals a core truth behind the expansionist quest for greater knowledge, more science: “Rather than embodying a linear progression to a new world that discards the old in pursuit of endless freedom and limitless bounty, Apollo’s path is circular. Humanity’s boldest and most audacious movement outward from its home found itself relentlessly looking in the opposite direction—back toward Earth—from the moment it began.”
Deborah Luster: Inmates from East Carroll Parish Prison Farm
and Angola Prison, Louisiana (1997–98)
“My mother was murdered on Good Friday, April 1, 1988,” says photographer Deborah Luster, whose palm-sized prints on aluminum—resembling tintypes—depict inmates from Louisiana’s prison system. “It took eight years to find the man who did it. At the end of that experience, I found myself looking around a courtroom at my family on one side of an aisle, at the family of the man who committed this murder on the other, and thinking what it had done to all of us. I felt then that everyone in the world must be a victim of violent crime.
“The U.S. incarcerates more of its citizens than any other country in the free world. Louisiana has more prisoners than any state. I had been taking pictures for the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities, working in an area around Lake Providence, an incredibly poor place in the middle of nowhere, and one day I went to the East Carroll Parish Prison Farm and knocked on the gate. The warden came out and I told him I wanted to photograph inmates. He said, ‘Come back anytime.’ So I came back with a two-and-a-quarter camera, a piece of velvet, and some duct tape and got started.
“Each person I photograph gets about 10 wallet-sized photos. In that sense, my work is not traditional documentary, since I’m not just a powerful person taking the powerless person’s picture and showing it to other powerful people. It’s about an exchange. I’m sort of their personal portrait photographer.
“I know a lot of these inmates need to be where they are. But I wanted to come to it without all that baggage. Most pictures from prison have a lot of bars and penal architecture in them. The minute you see the bars, you don’t see the people anymore. I want to show dimensions of the prisoners beyond their crimes. The title of the project is ‘One Big Self,’ and it’s meant to suggest that our punitive models are as reflective of who we are as our reward systems. We are all implicated.”
Nino Migliori: Untitled (1951)
“Modernism came a little late to postwar Italy,” explains Keith de Lellis, whose eponymous gallery represents Italian Nino Migliori, now in his seventies. “I first discovered Migliori’s work in La Nuova Fotografia Italiana, a 1959 book by Giuseppe Turroni that’s my bible. Migliori was an artist and close friend of the still-life painter Giorgio Morandi. He began by doing very abstract images using a technique where you scratch the negative. He continued to work in ways that pushed photo abstraction to its limits, but, at the same time, he was doing other, Cartier-Bresson-inspired pictures. This photograph was taken early in his career. In a way it’s so implausible you’d swear it was patched together. It’s not one of his well-known photographs, strangely. I discovered it in the archives, and when I saw the image my jaw just
dropped. It’s one of my favorite photos of the 20th century. Why? Because it’s beautiful and sexy and almost impossible to conceive of as real because the bodies are at clean right angles and the diver is so perfectly parallel to the horizon line. It’s an amazing photograph, a very lucky moment in time.”