The Matter of Photography in the Americas at Cantor Arts Center

Shotgun Review

The Matter of Photography in the Americas at Cantor Arts Center

By tamara suarez porras May 22, 2018

Shotgun Reviews are an open forum where we invite the international art community to contribute timely, short-format responses to an exhibition or event. If you are interested in submitting a Shotgun Review, please click this link for more information. In this Shotgun Review, tamara suarez porras reviews The Matter of Photography in the Americas at Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University.

My expectations for The Matter of Photography in the Americas, a recent survey of contemporary photography from Latin America at Stanford University’s Cantor Arts Center, were upended upon my first glance at the show. Instead of heavily leaning toward documentary or portraiture, as is often done in shows of Latin American photography, this exhibition presented expansive conceptual and material inquiry into the photographic medium. In the exhibition’s nine categories, bounds of representation are tested and pushed—not only by what is shown within the frame, but also in how the frame itself is made. The included work eschews allegiance to material or form, instead exploring how these concepts can be leveraged across photographic practice to interrogate representation.

Alfredo Jaar. Faces, 1982; eleven C-prints mounted on Dibond. Installation view at the Cantor Arts Center. Courtesy of the Artist. Photo: Cantor Arts Center.

Two works tackle disappearance in plain sight. First, Alfredo Jaar’s Faces (1982) confronts viewers as they enter the show. Each of the eleven prints features a reprinted newspaper photograph from Chilean news sources, with an enlarged detail of a single face in the crowd. There are no identifying captions, but the images collectively depict September 1973, when dictator Augusto Pinochet toppled the existing government in a military coup. It is assumed, as the gallery’s wall text states, that those whom Jaar (a teenager in 1973) chose to zoom in on in his prints were likely those who went missing and were killed during the coup. These enlarged faces—half-tone forms whose eyes depict fear, uncertainty, and force—become a collective memorial to the disappeared.

The Matter of Photography in the Americas (installation view), 2018. Photo: Cantor Arts Center.

In the final gallery is Pie de fotos (Captions), a 2012 work by Johanna Calle, a Colombian artist. Pulling from police archives, Calle selects typewritten captions that describe cadáveres (cadavers) and how they were killed. The silver gelatin paper is otherwise completely blank. The selected captions describe civilians as well as suspected enemies of the state, with fates determined by a decades-long civil conflict resulting in assassinations and the deaths of bystanders. The images do not need to be reproduced here to impart their weight. We already know such pictures, photographed using black-and-white film and stark camera flash. They are familiar and unrelenting images of death: blood, gashes, and fatally wounded flesh in darkened gray tones. Photography of this work was prohibited in the gallery; the pictures imprint on memory, rather than film or pixel.

Jaar’s and Calle’s works act as bookends. By making what is absent present, these pieces foreground the need to probe methods of photographic representation in times of political upheaval and both saturation and exhaustion of the image.

The Matter of Photography in the Americas was on view at the Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University through April 30, 2018.

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