Last Updated on 09/27/2023 by Chris Gampat
We’re blessed to have more than one museum dedicated to photography here in NYC. The International Center of Photography (ICP) has existed for many years. However, it’s recently been overshadowed by Fotografiska in a few ways — especially with the marketing of the Chapel Bar attached to the museum. Nonetheless, one can’t deny the massive floor-to-ceiling windows lighting the prints at ICP. For Fall 2023, there seem to be a few unifying themes. The first is the idea of human photography — which we emphasize a lot in our interviews here on the site. But the other one seems to be the idea of slapping photography for social media in the face in favor of something that you’d want to look at in a museum.
Editor’s Note: The Phoblographer was invited to the press preview of the Fall 2023 exhibits free of charge. We took an Uber there on our own account. ICP provided pastries and beverages to the press, and we imbibed a coffee. None of this affects our reporting. Declarations like this are part of our editorial credibility standards, which you can read more about at this link.
Changes at ICP
Visitors will be treated to three exhibits for Fall 2023 at the International Center of Photography. The second floor has one-half dedicated to Muriel Hasbun, while the other half is called Immersion and is a group show between three different photographers. The top floor is dedicated to Marlene Dietrich, who was very specific about how she was photographed. This section features images by Richard Avedon, Irving Penn, and many other big names. All of the work embraces something we talk about on this site — the idea that photographers should leave behind social media and return to the idea of doing certain things in person again. Of course, there’s a lot that can be done virtually. However, the print is an experience that can only be had in person.
Worth noting, firstly, is the fact that ICP finally seems to be taking cues from the designers at Fotografiska and using museum glass to minimize reflections. Despite their efforts, ICP’s lighting is so aggressive that other attending journalists also voiced their annoyance when I discussed it with them. While it’s better than it was in the past, the museum- celebrating 50 years of service to the arts next year- still feels a bit like it’s phoning it in. This is evident in the lighting and the lack of clear and distinct separation between the exhibits.
Muriel Hasbun’s exhibit does something that I feel is incredibly important these days: it’s bilingual. Many museums tend to only show descriptions in English. But moving back to Queens, NY, the most diverse place in the world has reminded me that we’re not alone. Here, signs are in various languages. And a museum that preaches inclusivity should indeed be provided translations where possible.
As you go through Muriel’s work, you’ll need to remember the idea of exile and loss. That’s all an essential part of it; you can find it in the descriptions. Many photos are created through analog processes that can only be done in the darkroom unless you do Photoshop work. There are, for example, multiple exposures that overlay parts of Muriel’s life with seismographs. Ms. Haburn attended the press opening and couldn’t entirely give me a straight answer when I asked her about the emotions she was going through when she made this work. It was done during the COVID lockdowns — so it essentially was a bunch of them.
Clearly, this is not the style of work that you’d see on social media platforms.
But you can only get that from the artists, and ICP doesn’t do an outstanding job explaining the work. And to reach out to newer audiences, they must find a way to connect the artistic and psychological parts of the brain. People are open to their interpretations of art, but knowing intentions is crucial here.
The exhibit explores war, genocide, and some randomness. For example, I’m not exactly sure why there’s an entire section dedicated to dental photography or why the curators felt it was so important. At least, they don’t do an excellent job of explaining why we’re looking at the photos.
If you’re new to understanding photography as an art form, you might not immediately comprehend what’s in front of you. But from interviewing photographers for a decade and a half, I can provide a solid hypothesis that Muriel is trying to connect various parts of her life together — which otherwise seems fractured by her past in multiple ways. Wars, oppression, and exile do that to people.
At the end of Muriel’s exhibit, I could relate to her in ways — though not in the same. I have dreams where people I currently know somehow or another have met random folks in my life, like my 6th-grade teacher, for example. And those random fragments of life merge pretty well and show an artistic maturity that I hope doesn’t disappear in the face of social media’s dominance of photography.
Muriel’s work is fantastic, and you should indeed check it out. But ICP did a not-so-great job of displaying the work, controlling the lighting, etc.
From Muriel’s section, you can walk directly into the Immersion space and not even fully realize that you’re in another gallery. That’s part of how ICP labels the section. Be warned when you inadvertently walk from one area into another. With that said, Immersion seemingly takes the idea of outsiders looking into society and trying to integrate with it while holding onto their own identities. It showcases the work of Gregory Halpern, Raymond Meeks, and Vasantha Yogananthan.
The work of Raymond Meeks talks about displacement, while Halpern discusses cultural conflict and colonialism. These are essential ideas and conversations to have — with Halpern’s curation subtly saying quite a bit about how influencers try to take advantage of areas in their own ways. Yogananthan works to showcase the interactions between children — and shows some very human moments that folks might otherwise not even think of or care about. These sections aren’t all split up very well, and even other journalists found the work to be a bit perplexing. For example, there are a few images that you’d look at and wonder why they’re in a museum like ICP.
Move upstairs to the exhibit space dedicated to Marlene Dietrich, and you’ll see echoes in today’s conversations on beauty standards. The work is a bunch of aged black-and-white images with very few color ones. Specifically, they’re photos of Marlene. She was particular about how she was lit, which shows in her poses, attire, etc.
ICP’s captions, which you can look at here, don’t help much. I’d love to know more about each photograph, but the information isn’t available to anyone looking at the images at the museum. Anyone new to photography as an art form would probably never understand why those photographs are in a museum.
While I genuinely believe that conversations on beauty standards are essential, it could’ve and should’ve been done in more than just the context of a privileged white woman. But the idea plays into how beauty standards these days are defined by social media.
In summary, I think ICP is doing a great job with its intentions, but its execution is lacking a bit due to the space itself. The reflections on the images sometimes make it difficult to clearly see and understand the work. And I can imagine that if you’re surrounded by others at the museum, you’ll move around to give others their space, too. Eventually, someone might just give up on looking at an image and not understand what they’re looking at. Because of this, we recommend going during an off-hour to really take in the experience. And when you do, think critically about the work.