Schaulust (2019), Installation view
Yet photography institutions remain. To examine their complex histories and the reasons for their emergence and continual existence – alongside other single-medium galleries and collections – is beyond the scope of this text, but it seems important to acknowledge a history often based on private initiatives, and sometimes on a sentiment of marginalization in art- (and sometimes historical-) museums.
It seems equally important to note that these institutions tend to interpret their historical definitions rather loosely and that they often do not have a very narrow approach to their medium. Most photography museums’ focus and scope evolve with photography and how the medium is defined and used in contemporary cultural practice. They remain attached to a single medium but with an ever-expanding definition, such as “lens-based”, “digital”, or “post-photography.” This constant rethinking and redefining of the medium also contributes to the field’s debates about definitions and identity, and allows some galleries to tap material from a very broad range of sources: scientific and medical archives, historical public archives, architectural repositories, etc. and then to produce exhibitions incorporating contents of different origins and purposes. Not unlike the practices of many artists who use archival material of various provenance and disciplines as the basis of their own work.
To me this multifaceted history presents a double opportunity. The first is the continuous possibility to examine the medium, its definitions and its limits. Presenting paintings or metal sculptures in a space dedicated to photography is not by any means in itself provocative or groundbreaking, but it means its connection to the medium of photography (or lens-based art) will be examined whereas it would not be a question in a contemporary art context, for instance, and the work thus will be contextualized in relation to photography. It creates an opportunity to add some nuance and complexity to an exhibition, to highlight some aspects of a given work or some unexpected connections, and, of course, explore (and sometimes even push) the limits of the medium.
The second opportunity, and probably to me the most important, is the possibility to stage exhibitions at the crossroad of photography, sociology and history, and to examine practices that would not quite fit in an art museum nor a historical museum. In that sense, an institution dedicated to photography is sometimes uniquely positioned to examine some vernacular phenomena. Paradoxical as it may seem, a single-medium institution can produce transdisciplinary exhibitions, or at least exhibitions combining material of different natures.
This is what we attempt to do at the Photoforum by including in our programme exhibitions and events, or sometimes art educational projects, which examine how images populate our daily lives, how we all produce and consume images on a daily basis and what this means. We sometimes produce exhibitions in which artistic positions and vernacular material mingle. In such exhibitions all content is used with little regard to art historical hierarchies to pursue a reflection on our complex relations with images. Here are two of our recent explorations of some aspects of image production and consumption over the last two years.