Just a Trick of the Light: The Met Exhibits Manipulated Photography

At 150 years old, New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art is one the United States’ oldest museums and also its largest, with a massive art collection to match. And with such an expansive history, The Met serves as the perfect host for two new photography exhibitions that focus on the evolution of photographic manipulation, from darkroom to digital.

A massive endeavor, Assistant Curator, Mia Fineman, smartly divided the content into two shows–one that highlights photo manipulation before the invention of digital photography (around 1980) and a second that explores contemporary digital artists who use Photoshop today.

The second show, After Photoshop: Manipulated Photography in the Digital Age, displays 25 works from the Met’s permanent collection that highlight new work by digital artists. The group is largely young (most of the artists are under the age of 45) with daring approaches to artists production. The show offers a glimpse into where photographic art may be heading, for better or for worse…

But it’s Faking It: Manipulated Photography Before Photoshop that offers some truly unexpected and thrilling work. The pre-Photoshop exhibit displays images that range from the insightful to the absurd, and the kitsch to the political. Regardless of content, the images share a tone: they are distinctly handmade and resonate with meticulous craftsmanship. They remind us that the manipulation we take for granted in photographs today originated from a laborious (and at times, dare we say, tedious?) process that only a few photographers dared attempt. Faking It, ironically, offers the most innovative works of the two shows.

Incidentally, this exhibit theme may sound familiar if you made it to the 2012 Digital Darkroom exhibit at Los Angeles’ Annenberg Space for Photography. And you’d be right to make the connection–Adobe co-sponsored both Digital Darkroom and The Met’s current shows. Perhaps that’s why the shows work so well. They embrace a sense of play between old and new, and serve as proof that even in a digital age, photographers haven’t lost their roots.

For more information visit The Met site.

Kit Warchol