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SECONDHAND

SECONDHAND


Published on the occasion of the exhibition Secondhand at Pier 24 Photography August 1, 2014—May 31, 2015


SECONDHAND


Contents

Director’s Foreword Christopher McCall

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Rescue Me Vince Aletti

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Everything Old Is New Again Claire Barliant

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Erik Kessels In conversation with Allie Haeusslein

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Index of Photographers

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Director’s Foreword Christopher McCall It is with great excitement that we open Secondhand, our sixth exhibition at Pier 24 Photography. Featuring artists who build repositories of found images from which to appropriate, construct, edit, sequence, and ultimately create something entirely new, this presentation highlights distinctly personal approaches that are as wide-ranging as their source materials. We paired works resulting from such practices with selected vernacular photographs from the Pilara Foundation Collection, illustrating another instance in which found pictures can offer new meaning through a simple change of context. Early in the process of working on this exhibition I encountered the intricately embroidered images of London-based artist Maurizio Anzeri, who takes great pride in scouring flea markets and online stores for historic studio portraits. I wondered what historical precedent, if any, existed for his unconventional approach. It seemed appropriate to turn to the auction website eBay as a research tool. In doing so I discovered early twentieth-century postcards from Spain depicting flamenco dancers and matadors. These everyday images were elaborately embroidered and, in some cases, delicately painted by unknown artisans. Over the next several months I collected over fifty unique postcards to include alongside Anzeri’s surreal portraits; it is clear that these objects, once perceived commonplace, not only are part of the medium’s history but also deserve to be acknowledged and preserved. After this discovery I found myself looking for and constructing archives of vernacular images with an obsession comparable to that of artist and collector Erik Kessels, who has amassed a trove of vernacular snapshots and photo albums that he incorporates in his artistic practice. His presentation shifts their context, transforming the everyday into something more significant that speaks universally to the human experience. Kessels’s three large-scale installations in this exhibition demonstrate that the true work of art is seeing this material through his unique lens. The practices of the artists in Secondhand start in a manner similar to Kessels’s and Anzeri’s—with the discovery or construction of an archive


of images. Access to this material is a key determining factor in many

deliberate editing and recontextualization. Throughout the exhibition,

of the works on view. Increasingly, as the world goes digital, more

selected vernacular images—which I collected on eBay—are presented

artists are turning to the Internet for source material. The pioneering

in a similar manner. Through their juxtaposition with contemporary

artists John Baldessari, Richard Prince, and Mike Mandel and Larry

works of art, these commonplace pictures move beyond their

Sultan began sourcing images from popular culture and government

original purpose and intent, engaging us in new ways. For instance,

archives in the 1970s and 1980s. In the case of Mandel and Sultan

the group of early twentieth-century press photographs of baseball

this meant visiting nearly a hundred archives, doing research, and

players illustrate the elaborate artistry of analog photo-editing

making copies of photographs. Removed from their original contexts

techniques. And the significant grouping of mid-century American

these pictures offer new insight, encouraging viewers to reexamine

employee badges speaks to the nation’s rise to industrial prominence,

their relationship to commonplace imagery while also considering the

while also addressing each subject’s individual experience and

notion of authorship. The precedent set by these artists empowered

the close link between personal identity and professional life.

the next generation to sample, dissect, and reimagine without hesitation, using available images to create new works of art.

At a moment when the medium is undergoing significant changes there is a strong desire to reexamine what photography has already

Matt Lipps selects, arranges, and rephotographs cutouts from the

accomplished. What are the image-makers of this exhibition doing to

now defunct American lifestyle magazine Horizon, constructing

advance the language of photography? With more than one hundred

large works that contemplate how our understanding of culture

and fifty years of printed photographs at their disposal and millions of

is mediated through our relationship to images. Hank Willis

digital pictures uploaded daily, these artists are uniquely positioned

Thomas reconfigures culturally charged historical images,

to critically examine the role of images in our society. While mining

presenting them in memorial flag frames that trigger ideas

these found images to reveal their own perspectives, the defining

about collective commemoration and cultural remembrance.

features of their artistic voices become process, craft, and display. A refined engagement with the history of art also contributes to their

The Internet operates as an archive of source material for several of

ability to convey articulate messages from the overabundance of

the photographers in the exhibition. Daniel Gordon’s vibrant still lifes

visual material surrounding us. The works presented in Secondhand

are carefully constructed from cut, ripped, and recombined images the

resonate with the current state of our visual culture, illustrating the

artist found online. Similarly, Rashid Rana blends thousands of online

creative potential intrinsic to the sharing and curating of images.

images of unrest and protest to create an overwhelming crowd scene that engulfs the viewer. From her studio in Berlin, Viktoria Binschtok

I would like to thank each of the artists represented in this exhibition

scours the expansive archives of Google Street View for scenes of New

and the writers who contributed to this catalogue; without them a

York. She then travels to these locations to produce new photographs,

project of this scale would not have been possible. I would also like

ultimately presenting her pictures and the source images together.

to extend my sincerest gratitude to each of the galleries, estates, and individuals who so generously lent works to the exhibition. Special

In the spirit of Mandel and Sultan, Melissa Catanese and the Archive

thanks to Timothy Prus and the Archive of Modern Conflict, along

of Modern Conflict draw from vast collections of photographs,

with Erik Kessels and his tremendous studio, for working closely with

blurring the lines between curating and creating and revealing how

us to create elaborate, immersive installations in Pier 24’s galleries.

unpredictable narratives and associations can emerge through

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Rescue Me Vince Aletti

Photographer Unknown, Press photos: baseball, ca. 1930–1940s


It may be romantic—or merely self-serving—but I tend to think of the snapshots, postcards, press photos, scrapbooks, screen grabs, and other found material in Secondhand as rescues: pictures saved from oblivion and given a new life. Odd, obscure, and anonymous photographs—typically relics from the not-so-distant past—have been hovering at the edge of our consciousness for decades now. Rescue efforts by savvy collectors and curators have begun to bring these materials in from the margins, if only because they clearly inform work that‘s been front and center all along. What would the snapshot aesthetic be without the snapshot? And how can we really appreciate Walker Evans, Lee Friedlander, Cindy Sherman, Stephen Shore, Thomas Ruff, Ed Ruscha, and countless others without some real understanding of the vernacular material that inspired them? But it’s not enough to put the canon in context, if that means perpetuating the divide between high and low, Pop and populist. You have to cross that divide, forget that divide, and open your eyes. Start at the flea market. Someone there is bound to have a big cardboard box full of old photos; if you’re lucky, they’re two for a dollar. If you’re really lucky, the box is a capsule history of the medium—a jumble of tintypes, cartes de visite, stereo views, cabinet cards, photo-booth strips, vacation snaps, grade-school class portraits, drugstore prints, family-photo Christmas cards, Kodaks, Photomatics, Polaroids. Inevitably, a lot of it is junk, easy to flip through and toss back. Not every box is a treasure trove. But there are always surprises, and occasional marvels. Here’s a glossy color print of a man standing by the side of a country road, turned away from the camera so only the back of his head shows. It’s not a William Eggleston, but it has a similarly nonchalant sense of moment. An Instamatic shot of a gaggle of skaters could be a Larry Clark (b. 1943) outtake. And a tiny tabletop still life, in mottled black and white, could have fallen out of Joseph Sudek’s portfolio nearly a century ago. But if you’re only looking for resemblances—a gold-toned, would-be Julia Margaret Cameron, a possible Robert Frank—you’ll probably

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Rescue Me – Vince Aletti

be disappointed. To truly appreciate the found photograph, it helps to have an eye for the odd and the ordinary, for quotidian weirdness and wonder. What sets an image apart is often accidental—a tilt, a blur, a flare, a double exposure. But sometimes what’s most arresting about a picture is a kind of terrific, deadpan simplicity: the thing itself, seen as if for the first time. Most great collections of vernacular photographs include a lively mix of all these things. Prime example: Thomas Walther’s found photograph collection, first exhibited as Other Pictures at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2000 and subsequently incorporated into the museum’s collection. Walther amassed these flea-market photos at the same time he was putting together the extraordinary collection of avant-garde European and American work now at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. One collection clearly informed the other, and both are the product of a sophisticated, unconventional sensibility, one that took him beyond the obvious modernist touchstones to lesser-known and anonymous material in the same vein. Steeped in the Bauhaus-driven New Vision movement of the 1920s and its many offshoots, Walther was quick to recognize elements of Kertész, Moholy-Nagy, Rodchenko, and Umbo in found postcards, snapshots, and other authorless prints. And I suspect discovering great fleamarket material helped to focus and expand his appreciation of the adventurous, unexpected image. Finding random, brilliant avant-garde images in the jumble of a cardboard box could only have encouraged him to open up his primary collection to work by photographers who had been shunted off the main stage. “Seeing is an act of creation,” Walther wrote in a brief afterword to the book documenting his collection, also titled Other Pictures. “These photographs remind us that the camera can be an extension of genius in the hands of any one of us.” Seeing photographs, especially vernacular material, through the eyes of a smart collector like Walther is instructive—a lesson in locating the art in the artless. Which seems very much to the point of Secondhand, an exhibition full of collections and collections of collections. It should be noted that some of the most engaging material in Secondhand was gathered by the exhibition’s curator, Christopher McCall, on eBay, the Internet’s instantly accessible alternative to the flea market. His


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Photographer Unknown, Press photos: baseball, ca. 1930–1940s


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Photographer Unknown, Press photos: portraits, 1920s


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Joachim Schmid, Photogenetic Drafts, 1991


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Photographer Unknown, Embroidered postcards, 1910s–1940s


Photographer Unknown, Embroidered postcards, 1910s–1940s


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Previous spread: Maurizio Anzeri, Selected Works, 2014–15 (installation view) Maurizio Anzeri, Lucia, 2010


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Maurizio Anzeri, Angelo, 2010


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Maurizio Anzeri, Scarlett, 2010


Melissa Catanese, Dive Dark Dream Slow, 2012 (installation view)


Melissa Catanese, Selections from Dive Dark Dream Slow, 2012


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From left to right: Archive of Modern Conflict / Photographer Unknown, Yugoslav immigrants arriving on a steamer at Santos, Brazil, ca. 1920 Archive of Modern Conflict / Philippe Jacques Potteau,Yelloub Ben Gobji, soldier of the 1st class in the 2nd Tirailleurs AlgĂŠriens, 1865 Archive of Modern Conflict / Philippe Jacques Potteau, Ta-naka, 1st class officer and 2nd secretary in the Japanese embassy in Paris, 1864 Archive of Modern Conflict / Photographer Unknown, Ensembles rythmiques et gymnastiques a PĂŠkin, 1965 Archive of Modern Conflict / Photographer Unknown, A hat in the forest, 1890


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From left to right: Archive of Modern Conflict / Dimitri Ivanovich Ermakov, Georgian costumes, 1880s Archive of Modern Conflict / Commissariat a l’Ênergie atomique DAM, Atomic trial on Mururoa atoll, Tahiti, 1970 Archive of Modern Conflict / Robert Macpherson, Cloaca Maxima, Rome, 1858 Archive of Modern Conflict / Photographer Unknown, Sunken three-masted ship, ca. 1870 Archive of Modern Conflict / Edward Curtis, A Cowichan mask, 1912


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Mike Mandel and Larry Sultan, Evidence, 1977


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Mike Mandel and Larry Sultan, Evidence, 1977


Hank Willis Thomas, American Gothic, 2014


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Hank Willis Thomas, Flying Geese, 2012


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Matt Lipps, Untitled (Shape), 2010


Matt Lipps, Untitled (Women’s Heads), 2010


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Matt Lipps, Untitled (Sculpture), 2010


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Daniel Gordon, Root Vegetables and Avocado Plant, 2014


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Daniel Gordon, Ratatouille and Smoke Bush, 2014


Viktoria Binschtok, World of Details (coats + couple), 2011


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Viktoria Binschtok, World of Details (golden door + cop), 2011


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Viktoria Binschtok, World of Details (billiard table + billiards), 2011


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Erik Kessels In Conversation with Allie Haeusslien

Erik Kessels, in almost every picture #1, 2002


What was it that first piqued your interest in vernacular photography? I work as a designer and an art director, which means that I am working with a lot of photography and photographers every day. In the field of advertising, photographs are often pushed toward perfection. I was really opposed to that impulse from the start—it’s why I became interested in amateur photography. For me, an amateur photographer is someone with a blind passion who will make mistakes. In the beginning, I got a lot of inspiration from looking at these “errors.” The first time I thought seriously about collecting amateur photographs was sometime around 1999, when I was visiting a flea market in Barcelona. I found about four hundred images of a woman posed in different settings. I knew they were something special, but I didn’t really look at the pictures in depth at the time. When I got home, I discovered they had been taken by the woman’s husband over twelve years, during their holidays together. I think I had the photographs for a year—or maybe a year and a half—before I started to look at them closely again. I sorted through them, guessing at what their story could be. I assumed the couple had no children, because they didn’t appear in any of the images over the years. I also noticed that when I put the pictures in order, the wife appeared smaller and smaller as time passed—the implication being, perhaps, that the photographer lost interest in his subject and slowly moved backward with his camera. I was fascinated by the way you could appropriate these pictures and look at them anew. When I shared these images with other people, they insisted that I bring them out in the open, because otherwise no one else could enjoy them. I didn’t expect there to be so much interest in them. The photographs you just described are featured in the first book of your in almost every picture series (pp. 146, 149, 150–51, 153–56, 159­–61, 163–64, 166–67). Why did you ultimately decide to present these images in book

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Erik Kessels – In conversation with Allie Haeusslein

form? What are the kinds of things you’re looking for when you’re selecting images to include in these publications? These images receive another life once they are removed from their original contexts and put into new ones. The photographs were never meant to be shown to a broader audience. Nowadays, of course, most photographs have a totally different function—they are meant to be shared, and many of them only have a lifespan of a few hours or a few days, and then they’re gone. But these images, taken by a husband of his wife on vacation, were created as a personal journey. I made this first book novel-size—to keep it quite intimate—and I didn’t really want to tell the full story upfront. It is intended to be like a novel with images, and viewers can guess at the story or make up one of their own. I’m not looking for single images. For me, it’s more important to find hidden stories; I am interested in finding out what’s behind a sequence of images that hasn’t yet been discovered. Those are the kinds of images I tried to find for in almost every picture. I was looking for stories created almost unintentionally by amateurs. There are now fourteen publications included in the in almost every picture series. I know that several of these books draw from images you found online. As you have worked on this series, has the Internet become a more important source of imagery? There are fewer and fewer albums on the market these days. The Internet is now like a flea market itself. And just as it’s hard to find good things at a flea market, it can also be difficult to find exceptional things on the Internet, where millions of people are looking at and posting pictures. For instance, the website where I found Oolong the rabbit (pp. 150–51) had already been discovered before I made the book. It was very messy, though, and you could hardly find the images. So the fact that the pictures fit in with the series—and were extracted from that original context—was, in a way, better.


Erik Kessels – In conversation with Allie Haeusslein

Erik Kessels, in almost every picture #8, 2009


Erik Kessels – In conversation with Allie Haeusslein

The printed photograph, the way we know it from twenty years ago, will never return. In exchange, we gain new freedom in taking photographs. A lot of amateurs have the same tools and skills that a professional has. The photo album of the twenty-first century exists purely online, on hard disks, or on mobile phones. It might even be that fifty years from now there will be more extant photographs from the sixties, seventies, and eighties than from the time we live in now. It happens very often that files get damaged or lost. And maybe we are not so attached to photographs as we used to be. Photography is part of everyday life, and a photograph is not as valuable anymore. A photograph is something to share with many other people, and once it’s shared, it can easily be deleted. You avoid the term “collector” in describing what you do with vernacular pictures. I’m wondering if you collect, or have substantial examples of, other kinds of cultural artifacts? I collect collections. Once, I found this woman at a market selling globes. She had maybe 150 different kinds of objects with globes spread out on her blanket. She sold all of them to me for fifteen euros or something. I said, “Don’t you want more for these?” and she replied, “No, no, I’m happy that you’re taking everything.” And then I started to talk with her. Frankly, I don’t give a damn about the globes themselves—I’m not a globe collector. I keep the collection because of the story behind it. These stories are the most important thing to me.


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Erik Kessels, Album Beauty, 2012 (installation view)


Previous Spread: Erik Kessels, Album Beauty, 2012 (installation view) Erik Kessels, Album Beauty, 2012


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Index of Photographers This listing is arranged alphabetically by artist name. In cases where an artist is represented by more than one artwork, the works are listed in order of appearance in the catalogue. All photographs are in the Pilara Foundation Collection unless otherwise noted.

Anzeri, Maurizio b. 1969

Pierre, 2013

Eva, 2012

Photograph and embroidery thread, 6 1/2 x 4 in.

Photograph and embroidery thread, 9 x 6 1/2 in.

Collection of the artist

Private collection

p. 52

p. 16 Scarlett, 2010 Lucia, 2010

Photograph and embroidery thread, 15 x 11 1/2 in.

Photograph and embroidery thread, 15 1/2 x 11 1/2 in.

Private collection

Courtesy A Palazzo Gallery, Brescia

p. 53

p. 44 Archive of Modern Conflict Angelo, 2010

Selections from the series Collected Shadows, 2012

Photograph and embroidery thread, 9 x 6 1/2 in.

Collection of the Archive of Modern Conflict

Private collection p. 45

Photographer Unknown Photographer’s family portrait, ca. 1890

Veronica, 2011

Cyanotype, 7 x 4 1/2 in.

Photograph and embroidery thread, 9 x 6 3/4 in.

p. 21

Private collection p. 47

Coster, Frank

Active ca. 1890

Spirit photograph, ca. 1890 Family, 2011

Cyanotype, 6 1/2 x 4 in.

Photograph and embroidery thread, 14 1/2 x 19 in.

p. 21

Collection of Pierre Brahm pp. 48–49

Studio of Bert Hardy 1913–1995 Planet Police, ca. 1950

Pino, 2013

Gelatin silver print, 8 1/2 x 6 3/8 in.

Photograph and embroidery thread, 17 1/2 x 13 1/2 in.

p. 64

Collection of Pierre Brahm p. 50

Francis W. Joaque 1845–1900 West African King, ca. 1870

Barnaba, 2010

Albumen print, 5 3/4 x 5 7/8 in.

Photograph and embroidery thread, 9 x 6 in.

pp. 64–65

The Silvie Fleming Collection, London p. 51

Secondhand Catalogue  

Pier 24 Photography presents Secondhand, an exhibition featuring artists who build repositories of found images, from which they appropriate...