Once. Again. Photographs in Series
Photographers often record change through images in series, registering transformations in the world around them. This exhibition at the Getty Museum in Los Angeles features both historical and contemporary artists who have photographed faces and places over minutes, months, or years. Their artworks prompt reflection on the ways the passage of time impacts how we see people and spaces.
The exhibition, drawn primarily from the collection of the Getty Museum, takes its cue from artist Gordon Parks’ trips to Brazil over several decades to document the life of Flávio da Silva. Parks’ photographs are on view in Gordon Parks: The Flávio Story, installed in the adjacent galleries of the Center for Photographs.
Photographing friends and family is a familiar pastime for many, and the exhibition includes the work of several artists who made masterful portraits of loved ones over the course of many years. Alfred Stieglitz photographed artist Georgia O’Keeffe frequently during their tumultuous 30 year relationship, and the photographs on view expose shifts in their rapport as well as changes in Stieglitz’s photographic style over time.
Series by Harry Callahan of his wife Eleanor, Paul Strand of his wife, artist Rebecca Salsbury, and Julia Margaret Cameron of her niece Julia Jackson similarly offer fascinating reflections on the changes in relationships over time.
The exhibition also includes compelling contemporary portraits, including photojournalist Seamus Murphy’s record of the physical and emotional toll inflicted upon a family living in Afghanistan under rule of the Taliban, and Donna Ferrato’s documentation of a woman who fled an abusive relationship. Both series register the struggles as well as triumphs.
A number of artists in the exhibition document seasonal and man-made changes in the landscape. In a 1953 series by William A. Garnett, aerial photography is used to capture a walnut grove before and after the trees were felled to make way for a housing development.
The startling perspective of Garnett’s images came to play an important role in the burgeoning environmental movement. Richard Misrach used his move to a new home in the hills above Berkeley, California, as an opportunity to take hundreds of photographs of the astonishing range of colors and atmospheric conditions surrounding the Golden Gate Bridge at sunset each evening. Several of his richly saturated sunset images are featured in the exhibition.
Works by Roni Horn, Jem Southam, and Josef Sudek also trace changes in the natural world, to both political and poetic effect.
Transformations in the built environment also reveal the profound effects of the passage of time. LaToya Ruby Frazier documented the painful process of clearing the rooms of her family home in a series of self-portraits in which she cloaked herself in the familiar belongings of her loved ones.
In order to spotlight socioeconomic changes in American neighborhoods, Camilo José Vergara photographed the dramatic transformation of a single Harlem storefront over 40 years, as it changed hands, changed facades, and split into two establishments. Other artists in the exhibition, including John Divola and William Christenberry, chronicle the disintegration of architecture over time, creating evocative meditations on deterioration.
“‘Once again’ is a phrase repeated in a poem by William Wordsworth,” says Mazie Harris, assistant curator of photographs at the Getty Museum and curator of the exhibition. “He was fascinated by the powerful feeling that arises when revisiting a familiar place. He’s experiencing his surroundings in real time and yet is constantly aware of his memories of being there before. The photographers in this exhibition conjure that same sensation. They offer us the opportunity to see people and places afresh, even as we track the powerful changes wrought by time.”