Online Exhibitions

What have we lost and what have we gained?

Untitled by Justin James Reed

Monroe, New Jersey, 2006.

Used with permission.

The terminology is the same as in real time; curators, galleries and exhibitions, but they happen online and not in the ‘real world’, so to speak.  So what is the difference between these two modes of display; what have we lost and what have we gained?

Andy Adams recently curated Looking at the Land, a slideshow exhibition for his prominent photography website Flakphoto.

If you haven’t already seen it I’d recommend putting the kettle on, setting it up on a large screen and sitting back to indulge in an almost-18-full-minutes exhibition break.  Looking at the Land.  21st Century American Views is a carefully constructed, visually compelling piece of slideshow.  If that sounds like a contradiction in terms it’s because it probably is.  I haven’t seen a slideshow like this before.  It is well structured, intelligently considered, thematic, beautiful. Ticking all the boxes of a well curated exhibition.  But it is still a slideshow and even in association with The Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design, a slideshow isn’t going to break the boundaries of viewing experience.  Probably.

I was recently lucky enough to visit Stockholm, where they have Fotografiska, a contemporary photography Museum showing a retrospective of Sally Mann.  Part of the excellence of this show was the experience of the work as well as the work itself.  Although I have seen Sally Mann’s work plenty of times before, including the same show recently at The Photographers’ Gallery, this time was quite different, which highlighted to me the importance of the curator.  The walls were painted black and each image was individually lit with little other light in the room.  The impact of this was that I personally connected with each image as I was isolated with it in the darkness.  In London the work was in a bright white room so I was half aware of where I was going next and half aware of what was going on in the picture in front of me.  Here, I found myself ping ponging back and forth between the images that stood out to me most, revisiting ones with a certain pull and bypassing others.  My footpath was spontaneous and erratic compared to the linear one laid out for me in London.  The same work, differently presented gave me completely different viewing experiences.

Which leads me to wonder how much input the online curator has to the viewer’s response.  How do they push and pull the viewer through the collection and what are they intending to convey?  What kind of experience do they hope the viewer will have?

I’m sure each one is different but back to Adams.  The approach is effective in Looking at the Land because it’s uniformity immediately says ‘professional’ and the slow moving pace is of stark contrast to the flickering norm of the online world.  It certainly slows down the average online viewer, but I am allocated the same amount of time with each picture so I can’t linger with my favourites or move on quickly when I choose.  I wonder how each image would be treated if it was given it’s own space in an actual exhibition.

What was your online viewing experience?


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12 comments for “Online Exhibitions

  1. Dewald
    3 October 2012 at 12:22 am

    What was your online viewing experience? Very interesting! There are a few which I can see myself having passed by in a real gallery, and a few of these I certainly would have missed out on, had I not had to wait the extra few seconds, and ‘just as well’ have taken the time to explore what at first might have seemed mundane….
    It is a nice touch on the site to be able to then later get to go back to the individual photos….

    A few questions / thoughts came to mind…
    1. the form factor is an interesting one?
    2. there seems to be very specific aesthetic to these chosen images, can’t call it minimalistic, but it feels like it connects to Robert Adams’ / Baltz’s work… a lot of the images play with surprise elements in scale, or lacking in ‘spectacular’ subject matter, for exactly that to become the subject… what would this aesthetic be called?
    3. In contrast with a lot of other slide-shows I’ve looked at, this one had no sound… a much debated topic. Personally liked this one without.
    4. It left me feeling quite quiet or empty… a strange feeling. How about you?

    Thanks for sharing, a really interesting view, at least 18 of the artists’ work REALLY pulled me, since I find myself working / seeing in similar ways at similar subject matter.

  2. 3 October 2012 at 2:59 pm

    Firstly, thanks Sharon for pointing us in the direction of Flakphoto. I absolutely loved the work exhibited in Looking at the Land – beautifully put together. I have also gone through a few other galleries.

    I have reached a point with online imagery where I feel overwhelmed by the pure volume of images out there and am finding it very hard to look carefully or closely these days. Yes, I clutter up cyberspace like everyone else!!

    Moving away from the online world and into the realms of a real gallery is very special for me – as is looking at photos in print. I love being able to take my time, go back and forth between images and soak in the atmosphere. I love too that surpise when I see photos exhibited well – the size, the colours – my senses are awakened. The curator will know the context in which I’m viewing and my experience will have been carefully planned.

    This particular online exhibition was good and thank goodness there was no music (as Dewald mentioned) which would have had me switching off within seconds. I sat and watched each image pass through – next one queued and ready. I actually stopped the slideshow at various points because I couldn’t stand knowing that I only had so long to look! I took control by taking more time over some photos which then raises the question about using a slideshow at all.

    I don’t think the curator can possibly know how people will be viewing or can do much to manage the experience because how people watch is dependent upon the environment in which they watch. Is it a snatched few minutes, are there children running around, is email clinking in etc? What this does do however, is to introduce work that people might not otherwise see (that’s the case for me) so there is a lot of value.

  3. Sharon
    3 October 2012 at 3:10 pm

    Thanks for such engaging comments to both of you!
    Yes, thank goodness there was no music! I think you are right, the real value of online curating is reaching a vast audience, and also, as there is less investment in showcasing a photographer online, it opens up opportunities to lesser known photographers too. Which can be good and not so good I suppose.
    I like what you say, Dewald, about the very specific aesthetic. As an online curator of sorts myself I am often bemused when people want me to endorse their projects on my site. It’s so subjective and my very specific aesthetic, becomes a kind of yardstick for some. Hopefully not many or we would constantly be depending on any Tom, Dick or Harry to endorse our work.
    Thanks for reading / watching.

  4. Gareth
    5 October 2012 at 2:29 pm

    My reaction was similar to yours Dewald – although probably to quiet or empty I would probably add saddened. I have spent quite a bit of time looking at the slideshow to try and understand why and noticed the following:

    The opening image has clearly been very carefully selected – it is partly a portrait in front of an iconic traditional landscape. We look at Nicole looking at someone (us/) looking at Monument Valley. From there on people are largely absent, their impact on the landscape implicit in photographs like one by Justin James Reed chosen by Sharon above or alluded to, such as in Rachel Hulin’s ‘Grandma’s View‘ (@14.05) The overall impression for me is of a rather bleak dystopian view, of human vanities dwarfed by larger forces (see Rob Hann’s Untitled @15.48). And when just rarely there is a human presence – for example in Rona Chang’s ‘After Irene‘ (@15.05), the larger forces are clearly present.

    It may be that given the current contempt with which we treat the environment, a bleak view is the only possible response to landscape. But that is a larger question. I certainly found plenty of new work to investigate in the slideshow.

  5. 12 October 2012 at 12:48 pm

    An interesting experience. I didn’t take Gill’s route of taking control of the timing and actually found that quite helpful – in that I was forced to engage with images which I might simply have clicked through (or wandered past in a real gallery.

    I was left feeling completely unclear what the exhibition told me. As Dewald notes their was something of a Robert Adams feel to the aesthetic, which sometimes left me thinking ‘Nothing new here’.
    It certainly gave a ‘man as enviro-peril’ view – which is fine, but hardly original, although the consistent format, measured pace and silence added a sense of creeping inevitability which I feel would have been missing in a gallery space. In truth I’m in two minds about the presence of a soundtrack – I’d be interested to see if their was a difference in perception if it had included say, a track of ambient gallery noise.
    As Gareth says, plenty of research leads tucked away in their for a Landscape student, but ultimately I was left thinking – what does this tell me about America? It seems to me most of the shots could have been captured in Europe, perhaps even Africa. So I’m left to conclude that the purpose was elsewhere – if it was an environmental message it was probably effective though highly tendentious. The vast majority of America is untouched or unoccupied – and this is the problem I see with this sort of show in general – they rely on the continuing perception of photography as some kind of truth, while concentrating on only one portion of that truth.

  6. 10 November 2015 at 8:58 am

    What a great series of images, I can only concur with the commentary posted here to date, much potential to look at for those on the Landscape module. But one image in particular by DANIEL SHEA, UNTITLED, CHESHIRE, OHIO 2009 caught my eye, it could do easily have come from American Power by Mitch Epstein, the use of atmospherics and the juxtaposition of the house and coal power station, looks clearly to have been heavily influenced by Epstein’s work 2003-2008.

    My real concern about online galleries is that, it is an uncontrolled environment i.e. not a ‘white cube’ where outside distractions are limited and certain etiquette’s are followed. As a viewer, to make the most of the experience you have to make sure you reduce other noise and input to zero…not always possible in modern family life.

  7. Sarah Gallear
    23 August 2016 at 9:41 pm

    Very interesting show, before I saw this presentation, I’ve been following Flakphoto on Twitter. I was surprised that there wasn’t any music and it was totally silent but considering the variety of images, perhaps that’s a conscious choice to force you to consider the differences and similarities between the featured work. I do agree with comments above about the wideness of the area, it wasn’t clear which country it was from, however I also feel that different worldly places can often be more similar than what we might realise.

    The timings were interesting, I like having the images unfold without my progressing, it really does slow down my take in of them and while I am interested in every one, I can imagine some people like to speed through. The one distracting point was the text and title, i found my eyes skipping between the text and image and wishing that I had more time for just the image and that it was centre stage.

    All in all, I found it a very engaging series and for me, a good way to take in images as a stop gap for seeing a physical exhibition, such as those it might be hard to physically get to.

  8. Nicola Hampshire
    22 September 2016 at 2:55 pm

    The word that came to mind when viewing this online collection was speed.

    As a slide show, the viewing is compelling although I found I had to set aside quiet time away from distractions to view it. For me, this becomes an isolated experience, compared to a gallery visit which I think of as a social visit and shared experience.

    The timing was interesting, being equally divided, forced me to look at some for perhaps longer than I would have liked to. There was a temptation (which I resisted) to skip through these. Some photographs I felt were similar to well known photographers, some were familiar to me and others I wanted to look at for longer. The website does, however, provide the facility to click on the images and informs the viewer of the photographer, their reasons for taking the images and what compels them to take landscape photographs which works for me.

    Should there be music? I think if there was music I would have turned it off to concentrate on the images as I found the text was a distraction in itself.

    As a medium, there are more photographers presented here than gallery exhibitions I have been to, and with information behind the image. So it works for me as a good resource which I would use in future.

  9. Hazel Bingham
    23 September 2016 at 10:41 pm

    Have just written up my notes on my blog re the above.

    Generally I found that it was ok but I did find my mind wandering so was pleased you could view as a grid and individually. Further info can be found on the above link.

  10. Richard Down
    2 March 2017 at 5:09 pm

    An interesting collection but I found myself distracted by the captions and overall, my impression was that there was too much to look in such a short time. I too was grateful for the absence of music. “Looking at the Land” is a fine ambition but the USA is vast. Admittedly, there was time to revisit the images from the grid which is where I got my real appreciation of them. It is the real stories behind the images that fill in the gaps and construct the narrative. I am also pleased that I am able to share some of the motivations and experiences of these photographers.

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