Three major exhibits and a Triangle festival celebrate the art of photography this fall.
“The idea is to have exhibits relatively at the same time to build excitement in the Triangle,” said Linda Johnson Dougherty, chief curator and curator of contemporary art at the N.C. Museum of Art in Raleigh. “Every fall for the past few years, there has been a loose consortium of different organizations ... with a focus on photography.”
With instant images now at the fingertips of every smartphone user, photography’s popularity is booming. Exhibits at major venues in Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill offer varying perspectives on the medium, while talks and short-run shows are expected to draw visitors to lesser-known galleries.
At Ackland Art Museum in Chapel Hill, “PhotoVision: Selections from a Decade of Collecting” takes visitors on a trip through the history of photography as an art form from its beginnings in the early 19th century.
“We are the only museum in North Carolina that collects photography across history,” said Peter Nisbet, chief curator for “PhotoVision.” “We include photography in a lot of activities and we have an exclusive photography show about once every three years.”
Ackland’s permanent collection of 2,000 photographs ranges from daguerreotypes and salt prints of the 19th century to digital inkjet prints of the 21st century. Of the 500 photographs acquired by Ackland in the past 10 years, 150 were selected for “PhotoVision.”
“It’s 150 really interesting, good photographs,” Nisbet said. “We tried to arrange them in groupings that are evocative and stimulating.” Thematic sections include Photography and Multiplicity; Sacred Spaces, Process and Product; and Staging the Image.
One large section is devoted to a “daisy chain”: 50 photographs spanning periods, techniques, subjects and styles that form a continuous sequence, each one linked to its neighbor by a different visual association – a detail, a formal echo or a surprising element.
“I think what will strike people a lot is the range in medium, scale, technique and the proliferation of photography in the museum,” Nisbet said. “It’s a great collection. Photography is always an interesting topic because we all take photographs ourselves.”
Additional photographs will be on view in Ackland’s permanent collection galleries, juxtaposed with African, Asian and Western paintings, sculpture and decorative arts.
“PhotoVision” runs through Jan. 4.
On display at the N.C. Museum of Art through March 22, “Private Eye: Allen G. Thomas Jr. Photography Collection” features contemporary works that cover a variety of photographic techniques and processes.
Allen Thomas, a collector from Wilson, donated the photographs to the museum in honor of Lawrence Wheeler’s 20th anniversary as director of NCMA.
“Larry is a good friend of mine,” Thomas said. “I decided to do something daring and let him know how much he had influenced me.”
Dougherty, curator of the exhibit, said Thomas’ relationship with the museum has been pivotal. “In 2005, we did a show that featured his collection. It was the first big contemporary photography show the museum had done.
“This summer, he gave us 65 photographs. It transforms our photography collection.” She said the gift expands the breadth and scope of the museum’s collection by augmenting works by photographers already represented as well as adding others.
The photographs on view were taken between 1993 and 2011, and are the work of 17 photographers from around the world. Straight photography – an attempt to depict a scene as realistically as possible – is represented along with highly manipulated images, often from the younger artists, Dougherty said. The exhibit offers an introduction to the diversity of contemporary photography.
Thomas, 49, said he has witnessed the evolution of photography as an art form. When he began collecting art, he said, photography was not regarded as a museum-quality medium. “I had to go to New York to buy photographs,” he recalled.
Dougherty said Thomas has a keen eye.
“He has an uncanny knack for discovering emerging photographers before the rest of the art world does,” she said.
Dougherty expects the exhibit to be widely viewed.
“In the spectrum of contemporary art, people are more open to photography,” she said. “It is often more of an immediate reaction. Everybody is a photographer with their iPhones.”
A distant outpost
In Durham, the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University is preparing to showcase a solo exhibition by photographer and writer Jen Kinney.
“City Under One Roof” is Kinney’s documentary of Whittier, Alaska, where 90 percent of 200 residents live in a single 14-story building. The only land access to the tiny outpost on Prince William Sound is via the longest rail and highway tunnel in North America. Kinney won the center’s Lange-Taylor Prize in 2013 for the project. Part of the award is an exhibit at the Center for Documentary Studies, said Courtney Reid-Eaton, exhibitions director.
“I hope it’s going to be fantastic,” Reid-Eaton said. “Her writing is beautiful and her photographs are evocative.”
Kinney moved to Begich Towers, the Whittier building, to document the lives of its residents.
Her project, which she plans to publish as a book, weaves together her photographs, oral histories, historical essays and archival photographs.
In her writing, Kinney says: “From the entrance of the tunnel to the end of an unfinished road, Whittier is only three miles long – just barely longer than the tunnel itself. ... Hours here have a small town’s drawling density. It is not timeless but time-heavy.”
“City Under One Roof” runs from Oct. 27 through Jan. 24.
Rebranded as a festival
The three exhibits are part of the Click! Triangle Photography Festival. The festival got its start as the Triangle Photography Consortium, formed with grant support from the Orange County Arts Commission, said Barbara Tyroler, a professional photographer who is co-director of Click!
“This year we have a fantastic new team,” Tyroler said. “Together, we’ve rebranded the consortium as a photo festival.”
The festival encourages local venues to showcase photography particularly during the month of October.
“The idea is to have various partners throughout the Triangle who start a tradition where we bring photography to the forefront and celebrate it as a medium,” said Caitlin Kelly, communications associate for Click!
“This is our third year,” she said. “We started out pretty small but it is bounding out of the box this year. The community of the arts in the Triangle is growing very rapidly.
“We have 23 to 25 partners. It has been a wonderful turnout. We are trying to encourage people to spread out their events and build on the existing structure. Even after October I think we’ll have an effect on the arts community.”
As part of the October push, smaller galleries are also turning their focus to photography in October.
The Gregg Museum of Art & Design at N.C. State University will feature an ongoing exhibit, “Smokes and Mirrors: Reflections of the Self in Photographs” by John Menapace, and has several one-time events planned, including a talk on forensic photography.
At the FRANK Gallery in Chapel Hill, the works of members and invited photographers will be included in “FRANK inFocus: Engaging Light.”
Dougherty said NCMA aligned its calendar to coincide with the October festival, while Nesbit said Ackland scheduled “PhotoVision” independently of the festival.Reid-Eaton said it was “a happy coincidence” that the CDS exhibition fell within the time frame of the event.