“The Edge of Vision: Abstraction in Contemporary Photography”

Penelope Umbrico's "5,332,272 Suns from Flickr (partial) 4/22/09"/Courtesy San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

By Graham Bell

A peculiar thing happens when you cannot see into a photo; when there is no illusion, no visual depth, no window into a captured moment. Representative photographs are windows into a world (whether real or imagined), and the general practice when viewing them is to look through the medium to get at the subject. Rare is the audience member who notices the glossy finish before the picture it contains.

For painters, it is easier to give in to total abstraction. They start with materials that must be built up in order to make something recognizable. For photographers, the film and camera are specifically designed to capture the world through photons, delivering varying levels of reality.

A traveling exhibition mounted by the Aperture Foundation, “The Edge of Vision: Abstraction in Contemporary Photography,” now showing at the Hoffman Gallery at Lewis & Clark College, brings together a cadre of international artists interested in the ways that the photograph and photographic process can be used in art making. Curator Lyle Rexer has taken the idea that abstraction has always been an inherent part of the medium and taken it to extremes.

Accompanied by a catalog of the same name, “The Edge of Vision” presents a stark contrast to the figural, landscape and otherwise representational works of other photographers who rely on the more documentary aspects of the camera. Instead, these artists set their focus on a more formal depiction of the very limits of what the medium has to offer.


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