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A Few Frames: Photography and the Contact Sheet

Sept 25, 2009–Jan 3, 2010

David Wojnarowicz (1954–1992), Untitled, 1988. Synthetic polymer on two chromogenic prints, 11 x 13 1/4 in. (27.9 x 33.7 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase with funds from the Photography Committee  95.88. Courtesy of The Estate of David Wojnarowicz and P.P.O.W. Gallery, New York, NY

David Wojnarowicz (1954–1992), Untitled, 1988. Synthetic polymer on two chromogenic prints, 11 × 13 1/4 in. (27.9 × 33.7 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase with funds from the Photography Committee  95.88. Courtesy of The Estate of David Wojnarowicz and P.P.O.W. Gallery, New York, NY

Decisions about which photograph to exhibit or print are frequently the end result of an editing process in which the artist views all of the exposures he or she has made on a contact sheet—a photographic proof showing strips or series of film negatives—and then selects individual frames to print or enlarge. Repetition, seriality, and sequencing—inherited from the contact sheet—are evident in all of the works on view.

The exhibition includes photo-based works from sixteen featured artists in the Whitney’s collection. The work of David Wojnarowicz and Paul McCarthy present the contact sheet as a work of art, while those of artists such as Andy Warhol, Harold Edgerton, and Robert Frank play with its repeating forms. Other works call to mind the format of the contact sheet, such as Bernd and Hilla Becher’s typological study of industrial water towers and Silvia Kolbowski’s grid of appropriated images of female fashion models. Works by contemporary artists such as Rachel Harrison and Collier Schorr in their continued interest in the contact sheet, despite perhaps growing trends toward digital photography, reveal the residual and sustained effects of this process.

The exhibition is co-organized by Elisabeth Sussman, Sondra Gilman Curator of Photography, and Tina Kukielski, senior curatorial assistant.