As we embark on our upcoming fall season, John Szarkowski’s landmark Windows and Mirrors: American Photography since 1960 exhibition comes to mind. The acclaimed Museum of Modern Art curator mounted this exhibition in 1978 as a comment on the state of the medium during the past quarter century. Szarkowski’s thesis was that the photographer’s function had shifted away from public concerns, as embodied by photographers like Dorothea Lange, and was now, more than ever, focused on personal vision, exemplified by artists such as Diane Arbus, Stephen Shore, and Joel Meyerowitz. These “private concerns” fell into two dominant categories: mirrors, a projection of the artist’s own worldview, and windows, photographs that show the world through the photographer’s perspective, exemplified by Robert Frank’s groundbreaking photobook, The Americans (1959). This thesis seems relevant today as more and more photographers utilize the straight photograph to simultaneously reveal themselves and their world in a single image. In this way, the personal has become political, to echo the second-wave feminist refrain.
This issue, and the exhibitions and programs at Houston Center for Photography this season, constellate around this idea of personal and cultural identity. These artists all aim to challenge our own worldview by allowing us to see through someone else’s lens. I’m thrilled to have the work of Genevieve Gaignard on the cover as we prepare to mount her first solo exhibition outside California in HCP’s galleries. We will also expand on the theme of identity in our bi-annual collaborative exhibition with FotoFest focused on the work of Texas artists who use a conceptual approach to reframe the medium of photography as well as their own relationship to family, history, and identity. Finally, we’ll have an exhibition of Robert Frank’s books, films, and photographs this December. Don’t miss this opening! Gerhard Steidl, the famed photobook publisher and longtime publisher of Frank’s work, will be in attendance and will give a public lecture that night.
The work we will bring you this season, as well as all the photographers in this issue, aim to make us see the broader world in a new way that is distinctly influenced by their own lived experiences. As you’ll see in the following pages, a photograph can shift perspectives; it can make the virtual physical; it can activate the gallery space in a very physical way; it can act as a metaphor of experience; it can unite us. This goal of bringing the community together through photography has been a central motivation of HCP from the very beginning. I hope you’ll join us this fall in our galleries, classrooms and online in the months ahead.
—Ashlyn Davis, Executive Director & Curator