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‘Touchstones of the Twentieth Century:’ A re-appreciation of the power of photography

| Thursday, September 24, 2020

Mary O'Reilly | The Observer

Photography is something that we take for granted these days. We are constantly taking snap-shots of our lives through our cell phones, and we are forgetting about the essence of the photo in which we are taking. I believe the art of photography has been forgotten. Due to its accessibility, we have begun to know photography as a commodity, not as a form of expression. There are some people who use it as a form of expression, but it’s become stagnant — a way of trying to capture a perceived aesthetic, not a form to convey a message. We need to be reminded of the purpose of photography and the artistry of the platform. I write this in reflection of the Snite Museum of Art’s current exhibition, “Touchstones of the Twentieth Century: A History of Photography at the University of Notre Dame,” which runs from Aug. 11 through Dec. 12, 2020.

The Snite’s exhibit focuses solely on 20th-century works of carefully selected American and European photographs. The earliest of these, Maurice Loewy and Pierre-Henri Puiseux’s 1901 lunar photo “Posidonius – Aristotle – Pôle Nord, from Atlas Photographie de la Lune,” is the first thing you see when you walk into the exhibit. The actual photo isn’t visible until you walk up to the illuminated frame in the back right corner; instead, you see it blown-up on the wall accompanied by text. The text gives some background of the exhibit and the types of photographs on display.

After reading the grand entrance on the back wall of the first exhibit room, you must work clockwise around the gallery, turning to the right and looking at all of the photos in the room. Then entering into the next room you turn left and work around the room. You continue to do so in each room, working back towards O’Shaughnessy Hall before turning left into the next exhibit room and heading back into the Snite. The reason for this seemingly random setup is to allow visitors to follow the exhibit’s chronological presentation of 20th century photography, starting at the turn of the century and continuing through the Y2K era.

The exhibit, as a whole, provides students and spectators with a broad understanding of photography as an art form. It’s a great introduction to analyzing art and photography, and to appreciating photography not only as a way of communication but also abstract and conceptual expression. This temporary exhibit is something you don’t want to miss. It’s something which appeals to everyone and has the ability to stir up conversations. Don’t just browse; take time to read the information cards and look closely at each photo. Go more than once, do external research and learn to appreciate each piece deeply and thoughtfully. It’s a beautiful display of works which mark the beginning to a new, revolutionary and innovative time in art history.

Notable pieces: “Bal Musette des Quatre Saisons, Rue de Lappe, Paris” (1932) by Brassaï, “Juliette Tournassound, The Photographer’s Daughter” (1913) by Jean-Baptiste Tournassoud, “The Lucy Photo-Booth Shot” (1975) by Cindy Sherman, “Four Snapshots” (1976-1981) by Andy Warhol and “Camera Obscura Image of Umbrian Landscape over Bed” (2000) by Abelardo Morell.

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About Willoughby Thom

i am the associate scene editor. if you didn't know already, my favorite band is Oingo Boingo.

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