Even before screens, photographs were everywhere. When photomechanical printing—reproducing a photograph cheaply with printmaking techniques that use a printing press and ink—took off in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries, photography’s visibility expanded hugely. Photographic imagery made its way into books, newspapers, and magazines, onto posters and billboards and stamps and postcards. Photography, specifically photography in print, quickly became the dominant form of visual communication.
The period beginning in the mid-1950s and continuing through the 1970s was known in the printmaking world as the “print boom.” The “photography boom” started later, in the 1970s. This fertile period and the decades that followed saw the growth of infrastructure to support both photographers and printmakers, as well as the adoption of both media, often in the form of hybridized photomechanical printing techniques, by artists associated with other art forms. A generation of artists became interested in the possibilities of integrating photography, text, and the graphic arts, and the potential these processes offered to combine and manipulate images and to create new contexts for them.
Printed photographs were prevalent in the art of this period. Artists began using them to imitate familiar forms of mass media in artworks that flitted between pastiche and parody. In addition to large-scale prints, the exhibition includes artworks that take the shape of printed postcards, baseball cards, tarot cards, and a calendar. Printmaking’s status as a cheap, democratic medium and photography’s ubiquity led to an explosion of photographically-illustrated artist’s books and portfolios by artists hoping to achieve wider distribution beyond the gallery system. Land art, conceptual art, and performance art gave rise to artworks that were impermanent or site-specific or both. Photographs, often reproduced in print and released in book or portfolio form, provided documentation of—and greater access to—these artworks. Photomechanical processes of the past were used by artists creating historically engaged work as a way to integrate process with their conceptual concerns.
The second half of the twentieth century saw a seismic shift in art, marked by a move away from Modernist introspection and investigation of the singular artistic medium toward political engagement, critique of mass media, and a drive to explore new forms across artistic disciplines. Photomechanical printmaking, a uniquely democratic hybrid process, was an essential vehicle for change during this period. Many of the concerns of the artists represented in The Logic of the Copy are shared by younger generations of artists working today, and the project of democratizing art and sharing images widely, begun in print, has been more fully realized in our current digital moment.
Taking its title from a line in Photography’s Expanded Field, George Baker’s 2005 essay investigating the overlap between photography and related media, The Logic of the Copy will bring together the work of artists working with photographs in print, beginning in 1960 and ending at the turn of the 21st century when the widespread adoption of digital means of producing and sharing images transformed photography. In addition to numerous examples of pioneering artist’s books by makers including John Baldessari, Susan King, Barbara Kruger, Bruce Nauman, Ed Ruscha, Keith Smith, and Clarissa Sligh, the exhibition will include prints by Tom Barrow, James Casebere, Tacita Dean, Jim Dine, Lee Friedlander, Betty Hahn, Robert Heinecken, Mark Klett, Sherrie Levine, Robert Rauschenberg, James Turrell, Andy Warhol, and others.
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Exhibition Page: William Henry Jackson, Utah. The Giant’s Club and Kettle, Green River, 1898. Photo-chromolithograph. Collection Center for Creative Photography.
Left: Joan Lyons, untitled from the series Presences, 1980. Offset lithograph. Collection Center for Creative Photography © Joan Lyons.
Center: Andy Warhol, Sunset, 1972. Screenprint. Collection Center for Creative Photography © The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc.
Right: Betty Hahn, Untitled (The Lone Ranger), 1976. Screenprint. Collection Center for Creative Photography © Betty Hahn.