As its name declares, photography is a means of “writing with light.” Photographs both show and tell, and they speak an extraordinary range of dialects. The exhibition Sight Reading: Photography and the Legible World, co-organized by the Morgan Library and Museum, New York, and the George Eastman Museum, explores the history of the medium as a lucid, literate—but not always literal—tool of persuasion.
Over the past 175 years, photography has been employed in countless fields of endeavor, from art to zoology and from fashion to warfare. Sight Reading features a broad range of material—pioneering x-rays and aerial views, documentary narratives, and recent examples of conceptual art—organized to emphasize the variety and flexibility of photographic practices.
In 1936, artist László Moholy-Nagy (1895–1946) defined “the illiterate of the future” as someone “ignorant of the use of the camera as well as the pen.” Moholy-Nagy was not the first to argue that photography belonged to the arts of commentary and persuasion, but the JPEG and the “Send” button have changed the terms of this argument in unexpected and exciting ways. As the modes and motives of camera imagery multiply, viewers continually learn new ways to read the information and assess the arguments in a photograph.
Drawn chiefly from the Eastman Museum’s rich holdings, and supplemented by works from the Morgan and a private collector, this exhibition features work by William Henry Fox Talbot, Eadweard Muybridge, John Heartfield, Lewis Hine, John Baldessari, Sophie Calle, and Bernd and Hilla Becher, among many others.
On View at the Morgan Library & Museum
February 19–May 30, 2016
225 Madison Avenue, New York, NY
On View at the Eastman Museum
June 18–September 18, 2016
900 East Ave, Rochester, NY