By Michael O'Sullivan
"There’s a crisis of confidence in contemporary photography.
That’s the take-away from “Seeing Now: Photography Since 1960.” The exhibition at the Baltimore Museum of Art is a sure-footed history of the past 50 years of picture taking that culminates in a pretty shaky assessment of the current state of the art.
Exactly what, it asks, is a photograph? The answer, to the extent that there is one, is unclear.
Not that it hedges on the issue of quality. Smartly curated by Kristen Hileman, the work on view is conceptually strong. But it does raise some thorny questions. Does a photograph merely record its subject or, by the very act of taking a picture, transform it? What is its appropriate subject? Something beautiful or something ugly? Can it even be trusted? And where does the photographer belong — behind or in front of the camera? Speaking of cameras, why do you even need one?
It asks some of these right off the bat.
As the show's title suggests, "Seeing Now" also includes more recent work. Consider, for example, Marco Breuer’s "Shot (C-917)." That punningly titled work, from 2009, is a sheet of photographic paper that was blasted by a shotgun, then processed in a darkroom. The resulting abstraction, riddled with holes surrounded by burnt-orange coronas, is beautiful. But is it a photograph?"
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