"What can the camera reveal that the eye cannot see?"
This question greets visitors to the newest rotation of works in the art museum's Becker Gallery. In the description of her show, "You Can't See This: Photography at the Limits of Visibility," exhibit curator and Visiting Assistant Professor of Art Meggan Gould asks the viewers to consider the role of photography in revealing what is usually invisible to the human eye.
A photographer herself, Gould approaches an understanding of the medium by suggesting that "the standardized blink of a mechanical shutter is an accepted proxy of eyesight." The contents of the show, which range in format from black and white prints to X-Rays, work collectively to enforce this proposition of visual understanding.
Gould takes full advantage of the Museum's extensive catalog of artwork by including pieces by some of the world's most well-known photographers, such as Eugene Atget and Andre Kertesz. Also included are pieces by Abelardo Morell '71 and Peter Shellenberger, ssistant prepator at the Museum of Art. Regardless of the various photographers' fame, each image provokes an understanding of the way photography can change the act of viewing.
"I am interested in cameras seeing things that humans literally are unable to see, as well as framing things that have the potential to show us more than is actually reproduced in the photograph itself?that hint at much more," Gould said.
Some of the photographs evoke a mysterious sense of vacancy that leave the viewer lingering and looking for the missing piece. In his silver gelatin print, "Bed at Elijah Gowin's," Emmet Gowin depicts a room with a bed cramped in the corner. Although it is neatly made, there is a sagging in the middle of the mattress and pillows that suggests an unknown presence.
Eugene Atget's "Funeral Carriage" also suggests a missing element. The photograph shows a carriage in the street, but with open windows and nothing but an indication through the name of the piece that something resides inside.
Perhaps the piece that most notably questions visibility is an image by Peter Shellenberger titled "Atomic Matchbox Car 92." This unique process invented by the artist has no explanatory placard, which makes the print fit even better with the mysterious quality of the show. This large, purple, tinted image is produced by enclosing a small serving dish, which contains elements of radiation, a toy car, and a large format negative in a light proof container for about a month.
One of the pieces, an X-Ray from South Africa dating 1/15/1996, is on loan from Gould's personal collection of found photographs. Although there were several possible ways to display the X-Ray an electronic, luminescent strip was chosen?a new technology for the museum. The strip shines through the X-Ray, improving its readability and the viewer's understanding of the scientific photograph.
Also included in the show is Mark Klett's "Byron Checking the Position of the Moon with his Laptop," which requires more than just a brief glance. There is a dark, silhouetted face and with the night sky behind it, the contours of the profile blend with the land in the distance, making the face and landscape into one indivisible form. In addition to the ways that this image fits the theme of the show, Gould's choice to include this piece was influenced by her own work. Screen shots of both desktop and laptop computers make up a large part of Gould's work.
Familiarity with photography is not at all necessary to enjoy "You Can't See This." In fact, it most likely allows for a more pure appreciation of the theme of visibility. In hopes of extending an understanding of how photography "can show us the visible in a way that is evocative more of what we are not shown than what we are," Gould carefully selected this collection of pieces. The aspects of mystery, emptiness, and invisibility in the images are what tell us the most.
Kerry D'Agostino contributed to this article.