Making Meaning out of Light in Photo Exhibits at Akron Art Museum


Deeply dependent on careful planning and choreography, Barbara Probst’s Exposure #106: N.Y.C., Broome & Crosby Streets, 04.17.13, 2:29 p.m. records a distinct moment, blurring the boundary between a staged intervention and documentary proof. The multi-panel photographic installation captures a specific time and place from 12 perspectives using synchronized cameras. Probst sets up her equipment and parts of the scenes she photographs, but also embraces the unplanned or accidental actions that contribute to her final images.

Walker Evan

Walker Evans, Southeast, around 1936, gelatin silver print, 8 x 10 in., Collection of the Akron Art Museum, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. C. Blake McDowell, Jr. 1980.25

This major work by Probst, a recent acquisition to the collection, reminds us that the framing of a photograph—and the photographer’s choice of what details to include or exclude—can imply narrative or open multiple pathways for the creation of meaning. Photographs translate realities that exist in front of the camera—but sometimes images can be deceiving, prompting us to wonder what is real.

This summer, two complementary exhibitions at the Akron Art Museum embrace the permeability of the boundaries between reality and fiction in photographic media. Proof features more than one hundred photographs from the collection dating from the Civil War era to the present, connected by the artists’ shared interest in documenting the world around them. Staged features the work of artists whose directorial involvement in the set-up of the scenes they photograph is essential to their practice. Museum programming related to both exhibitions will invite conversation about the tenuous role of truth in photography and varied approaches to the medium.

Proof: Photographs from the Collection

Through October 25

In exploring how photographs help create our collective memory, Proof considers familiar as well as innovative documentary styles of photography. The fleeting glimpses captured in street photography, explorations of the human condition, the creation of a sense of place in images and the reportage of events are binding themes in the exhibition. Favorite works from the collection– including classic documentary photographs by Walker Evans, Lewis Hine, Weegee and many others–are key to the presentation. Major series commissioned by the Akron Art Museum from Lee Friedlander and Robert Glenn Ketchum, focusing on the Great Lakes region and Cuyahoga Valley, are also represented.

Samuel Fosso, Self Portrait

Samuel Fosso, Self-Portrait, 1977 (printed 2006), gelatin silver print, 20 x 20 in., Collection of the Akron Art Museum, Knight Purchase Fund for Photographic Media 2006.29

Proof also speaks to the work of artists who stretch the typical definitions of the documentary genre, such as Cindy Sherman and Andy Warhol. Contemporary work by artists who have filtered, interrogated and re-examined these documentary styles are represented by recent acquisitions from Josh Azzarella, Barbara Probst and Jennifer Williams.


Through September 27

Just as theater directors orchestrate the stage, many photographers carefully construct scenes in front of their cameras to realize their creative visions. The artists featured in Staged direct, design sets for, and often act in their own productions; their subjects are not simply present, but engaged as performers. The resulting images are often as theatrical in their presentation as a Broadway play or a Hollywood film.

Staged presents artworks from the collection that are infused with artists’ personal passions and also speak to broader social concepts. Gender, race and cultural identities are actively investigated by Samuel Fosso, Yasumasa Morimura, Cindy Sherman and Carrie Mae Weems. Sandy Skoglund and Spencer Tunick consider humanity’s relationship to nature. Personal and collective histories play major roles in the works of Eikoh Hosoe and Joel-Peter Witkin. These investigations of life through fiction distill and reflect reality, offering poignant commentary on subjective, multivalent themes.

Key to the exhibition is a vibrant, dream-like photograph by Sandy Skoglund, who is deeply interested in the presence of artificiality in daily life. Skoglund developed her arduous staging process in the late 1970s, well before Photoshop was invented. To create Revenge of the Goldfish, she crafted and painted 120 terracotta fish, constructed a life-size set, and directed human models—all specifically for the lens of her stationary large-format film camera. “Stories, no matter how short or long, are an invisible way that we try to understand the world and our lives,” says Skoglund; indeed, the works in Staged each invite us to consider broader truths about the human experience.

Eikoh Hosoe

Eikoh Hosoe, Kamaitachi #12, 1968 (printed 2006), selenium toned gelatin silver print, 7 5/8 x 12 in., Collection of the Akron Art Museum, Knight Purchase Fund for Photographic Media 2006.167

 Exhibitions on view:

Staged: Through September 27

Proof: Photographs from the Collection: Through October 25

Altered Landscapes: Through July 12

Hands On Architecture: July 5 – September 13

Charles Beneke: Specter: Opens August 1

Akron Art Museum

One South High Street

Akron, Ohio 44308