NYPL Public Eye

New York Public Library
5th Ave at 42nd St, NYC
Wednesday 25 March 2015


I enter through Bryant Park, a green (sort of, it’s a cold and barren Spring so far) oasis in the middle of the densest part of town watched over by a Buddha-like statue of Gertrude Stein. Twin marble lions – Patience and Fortitude – welcome me to the Beaux-arts building. Sadly the iconic Rose Room was closed (partial ceiling collapse!) but the entrance alone is worth walking in for.

Public Eye: 175 Years of Sharing Photography
I could have spent a day in here, but only had an hour between other scheduled events. Exhibition description:

Thanks to the development of new technology and social media, more photographs are created, viewed, and shared today than ever before. Public Eye, the first-ever retrospective survey of photography organized by NYPL, takes advantage of this moment to reframe the way we look at photographs from the past. What are some of the platforms and networks through which photographs have been shared? In what ways have we, as photography’s public and one of its subjects, been engaged over time? To what ends has the street served as a venue for photographic practice since its beginnings? And, of more recent concern, are we risking our privacy in pursuit of a more public photography? Ranging from photography’s official announcement in 1839 to manifestations of its current pervasiveness, this landmark exhibition, drawn entirely from the Library’s collections, explores the various ways in which photography has been shared and made public. Photography has always been social.

The use of the space meant that although crowded, I never had to stand too close to other people. In NYC, this is a rare gift.

The book is … a medium for homage

Ed Ruscha popped up for me again here too, after my first session at the MoMA Library. Here, his book Every Building on the Sunset Strip (1966) is displayed alongside Yoshikazu Suzuki’s Ginza Neighborhoods (1954). Look a the dates again. As I discuss in more detail in the After Ed-werd Rew-shay book, my interest is as much in the incredible number of homage works created after Ruscha as his work itself. It seems he understood homage well. I’m sure this has been written about ad nauseam, however I’m in NYC – no time to chase paper trails yet.

The book is … a malleable format.

Edward Steichen’s The Family of Man also struck me as an interesting example of an ‘expanded’ exhibition catalogue. In 1955 MoMA hosted an exhibition of “503 photographs grouped thematically around subjects pertinent to all cultures, such as love, children, and death” for 3 months. Following, the show toured 37 countries over 8 years.

Over the course of the exhibition, there were 3 types of catalogue: 1. a standard paperback catalogue; 2. a delux hardback which included installation views; 3. a small, pocket-size book intended for sale at newsstands and airports.

In my artist statement for this residency, I question whether a book that is flowed into an eReader, a mobile phone and a desktop computer are all the same book. I can’t answer that yet, but I can say that Steichen’s books are not the same. They belong to the same project, they contain much of the same information, but they are designed for different purposes/audiences and vary slightly in content as well as format. They are sibling editions, but not the same.

Embedded in the footpath leading to the Library are a whole series of bronze plaques with library related thoughtfulness: