The Uses of Photography: Art, Politics, and the Reinvention of a Medium

Saturday, Sep 24, 2016-Monday, Jan 02, 2017
Fred Lonidier
29 Arrests: Headquarters of the 11th Naval District, May 4, 1972, San Diego (detail)
1972, Text panel and twenty-nine black-and-white gelatin silver prints, each 5½ × 8½ (14 × 21.6 cm). Collection of Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, Museum purchase with funds from Lynn and Danah Fayman, by exchange, and proceeds from the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego Biennial Art Auction 2014. Courtesy of the artist and Michael Benevento, Los Angeles; Essex Street, New York; and Silberkuppe, Berlin.
Eleanor Antin
Caught in the Act
1973, black-and-white video, sound, 36 min.. Courtesy Ronald Feldman Fine Arts, New York.
Allan Sekula
Untitled Slide Sequence
1972-2011, twenty-five archival grayscale pigment prints, Framed (each): 14 1/4 × 20 1/2in. (36.2 × 52.1cm). Collection Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego. Museum purchase with funds provided by Danah and Lynn Fayman by exchange and proceeds from the 2012 Biennial Art Auction.
Martha Rosler
Flower Fields
1974, Super 8mm color film on video, silent; 3 min. 40 sec.. Courtesy of Electronic Arts Intermix (EAI), New York.
Carrie Mae Weems
Welcome Home, from Family Pictures and Stories
1978-1984, gelatin silver prints, text, two audio tracks, 24 x 36 in.. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.
Babette Mangolte
There? Where?
1979, 16mm color film transferred to DVD, 10 min.. Courtesy of the artist.
Phel Steinmetz
Oil, Profit, Control
1973, Artist’s book with gelatin silver prints, 10 1⁄4 x 111⁄2 x 1 in. (26 x 29 x 2.5 cm). Collection of Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, Museum purchase.
Helen Mayer Harrison, Newton Harrison
Survival Piece VII: The Crab Farm, Scylla Serrata (Forsskål)
1972-1973. Photographic documentation of installation, dimensions variable.
Allan Kaprow
Still from Rates of Exchange
1975, single-channel black-and-white video on DVD, sound, 46 min. 10 sec. . Courtesy of Allan Kaprow Estate and Hauser & Wirth.

The Uses of Photography examines a network of artists who were active in San Diego between the late 1960s and early 1980s and whose experiments with photography opened the medium to a profusion of new strategies and subjects. Working within the framework of conceptual art, these artists introduced urgent social issues and themes of everyday life into that seemingly neutral territory, with photographic works that took on hybrid forms, from books and postcards to video and text-and-image installations. If photography had come to occupy a new, more prominent position in the art world of the late 1960s, largely within the context of conceptual art, much of the medium’s radical potential nonetheless remained latent. 

Tracing a crucial history of photoconceptual practice,The Uses of Photography focuses on an artistic community that formed in and around the University of California San Diego, founded in 1960, and its visual arts department, founded in 1967. Artists such as Eleanor Antin, Allan Kaprow, Fred Lonidier, Martha Rosler, Allan Sekula, and Carrie Mae Weems, to name a few, employed photography and its expanded forms as a means to dismantle modernist autonomy, to contest notions of photographic truth, and to engage in political critique. The influence of these artists is felt throughout the global contemporary art world today, yet their common roots in San Diego—a military town far removed from the art world—has rarely been acknowledged. While these artists are celebrated internationally for their individual achievements, this exhibition is the first to explore how their practices emerged at a critical time and place.

Featuring approximately 100 works, The Uses of Photography includes photographic series, installation, slide projection, video, audio recordings, artist’s books, ephemera, and a program of film screenings. The exhibition is accompanied by a richly illustrated scholarly catalogue co-published by MCASD and University of California Press.

Artists in the exhibition include David Antin, Eleanor Antin, John Baldessari, Jean-Pierre Gorin, Helen Mayer Harrison, Newton Harrison, Louis Hock, Allan Kaprow, Fred Lonidier, Babette Mangolte, Martha Rosler, Allan Sekula, Lorna Simpson, Elizabeth Sisco, Phel Steinmetz, Carrie Mae Weems

The Uses of Photography: Art, Politics, and the Reinvention of a Medium is organized by the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego with generous lead underwriting from Laurie Mitchell and Brent Woods, Olivia and Peter Farrell, Faye Hunter, Anonymous, and the National Endowment for the Arts. Additional support has been provided by the LLWW Foundation and The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Institutional support for MCASD is provided by the City of San Diego Commission for Arts and Culture, and the County of San Diego Community Enhancement Fund.