I found myself reading James Wood’s How Fiction Works this summer at the suggestion of the artist Morgan Ashcom. As we were planning his exhibition, What the Living Carry, which opens at HCP this September, we discussed that one of the most critical aspects of his work is how it draws our attention to what the photograph does to and for the viewer. Some critics might call this affect; some might call it the life of the photograph; Roland Barthes would call it the punctum—the thing that pierces us. Regardless how we define it, photographs make us feel things, which, to varying degrees, become part of our experience of the world.
In an exhibition space, we physically move our bodies in relation to the work. We may laugh at a picture, we may cry, we may wonder, “How’d they do that?” Morgan is interested not just in what the photograph does, but how it does it. This dissection of photography is at the core of this issue of spot, which loosely revolves around themes related to what some have called our “post-truth” moment, and particularly photography’s role and potential within that. In this issue, all the writers and artists explore to some extent the nature of photography, the forms it takes, as well as what the word document means in a moment that requires great visual literacy to determine what is real and what is “fake news” or otherwise.
Now, more than ever, we depend on images to relay the facts and meanings of our lives. What happens when we misinterpret them? When we believe something that wasn’t there? Or, when there were not images to begin with? All the artists in this issue work in very different ways to present us with an intentional construction of an image that nuances our understandings of what photography can do—the truths it can reveal that are more than mere documentation yet are nonetheless records of their willful transformation of our perception.
As Bucky Miller explains, “Photographs are documents, but they are also transformation. They are spatial, but flat. They are both intimately tethered to the personal experience of the photographer and, once released into the world, independent of that person’s thoughts. Fact and fiction. A part and a whole. Passive and Aggressive. Both both.”
We’ll be exploring these dualities from all directions this year. One of our many, exciting developments is the debut of our Words & Pictures series, a lecture and conversation series between photographers, writers, and thinkers of the medium. Our first iteration will be in October with Morgan Ashcom as we discuss “Truth, History, and Photography” through his work. I hope you’ll join us for this and many other exciting events over the next season.
—Ashlyn Davis, Executive Director & Curator