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Photos get a new look with eye toward genius

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You’ve probably seen these iconic photographs: Ansel Adams’ “Moonrise Over Hernandez, New Mexico,” Edward Weston’s “Artichoke Halved” and Alfred Stieglitz’s “Steerage.”

Those three are among works by famous photographers that share space in the same exhibit with Jonathan Blaustein’s vernacular photo of a cheeseburger, photo album art, snapshots, photojournalism and even works by anonymous 19th-century photographers.

The exhibit is “Reconsidering Photographic Masterpieces” at the University of New Mexico Art Museum. A major reason for the exhibit is this: We should think about widening the notion of what a masterpiece can be in the early 21st century.

If you go
WHAT: “Reconsidering the Photographic Masterpiece”
WHEN: Now through July 29. Hours are 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesdays-Fridays and 1-4 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Starting April 1 the museum will have new hours: 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesday-Saturdays and closed Sundays
WHERE: University of New Mexico Art Museum, Center for the Arts, UNM campus
HOW MUCH: Free, but there is a suggested $5 donation

“During the last 20 years or so, the way that scholars think about the history of photography has significantly evolved and expanded in new directions and toward more inclusive histories,” exhibit curator Michele Penhall wrote in her exhibit statement.

“Accordingly, broader avenues of understanding, interpretation and appreciation have opened up for artists and images previously marginalized or altogether neglected.”

Sherri Sorensen, the museum’s assistant curator of prints and photographs, said there are more than 120 images in the exhibit, spanning more than 160 years of photography. They were culled from more than 10,000 photographs in the museum’s permanent collection.

“It was a Herculean task for the curator,” Sorensen said. “Michele chose some works by (photographic) titans for the exhibit that have had less commercial exposure. That gives the viewer an opportunity to see other works of equal aesthetic importance and note than the more iconic images.”

The exhibit doesn’t declare that the lesser-known photos on display – by reason of proximity – should be declared masterpieces, only that their artistic forms could be considered in that exalted category.

For example, there’s a snapshot Andy Warhol took of the backside of a row of cows. “It would be indicative of more of a snapshot aesthetic. He’s known as a Pop artist,” Sorensen said.

Consider the famous news photograph that Robert Capa took in 1936, “Death of a Loyalist Soldier, Spanish Civil War.” It’s in the exhibit.

So is a page of photos with watercolor decorations from a photo album by Lady Mary Georgiana Filmer, who lived in England in the 19th century.

There’s an image of an indigenous Peruvian worker taken by commercial photographer Martín Chambi in 1933. It represents photography’s embrace of work by non-Western photographers.

And works by anonymous photographers demonstrate the exhibit’s inclusiveness.

“They were part of the history of photography excluded by museums, critics, collectors,” Sorensen said.

Another important aspect of the exhibit are the 15 photographic processes that have been used since the inception of the art form.

These are examples of some of the processes that represented in the show:

♦ An unknown photographer took the untitled 1855 image of two young girls and a dog. The process used in it is called ambrotype, which replaced the daguerreotype by the late 1850s.

♦ Julia Margaret Cameron’s 1867 image “The Wildflower” is an albumen silver print.

♦ Beaumont Newhall’s 1928 “Chase National Bank, New York” is a gelatin silver print. Gelatin silver print is the designation for the black-and-white developing photographic paper used for much of the 20th century.

♦ Digital C-print, or chromogenic print, is the process Alec Soth used for the 2002 photograph “Joshua, Angola State Prison, La.”

The last of four exhibit-related events in the Distinguished Lecture Series will present James Enyeart at 5:30 p.m. April 10 in the museum. Enyeart’s lecture, which is free, will be on “Lee Friedlander: Trust in Excess of Fact.” Friedlander’s vernacular piece “Lafayette” is in the exhibit.

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