Love Songs: Photography and Intimacy @ICP

JTF (just the facts): A group show consisting of photographs and video works by 16 contemporary photographers, variously framed and matted, and hung against white walls on the second and third floors of the museum. The show was organized in New York by Sara Raza, in collaboration with Maison Européenne de la Photographie (MEP), Paris, where the exhibit was curated by Frédérique Dolivet and Pascal Hoël.

The following photographers have been included in the show, with the number of works on view and their details as background:

  • Nobuyoshi Araki: 11 gelatin silver prints (from “Sentimental Journey”), 1971; 36 gelatin silver prints (from “Winter Journey”), 1989-1990
  • Ergin Çavuşoğlu: 1 3-channel video, 2008, 25 minutes
  • Motoyuki Daifu: 23 chromogenic prints (from “Lovesody”), 2008
  • Fouad Elkoury: 26 inkjet prints, 2006
  • Aikaterini Gegisian: 29 collages on card, 2019
  • Nan Goldin: 9 Cibachrome prints (from “The Ballad of Sexual Dependency”), 1973-1986
  • René Groebli: 12 gelatin silver prints (from “L’Oeil de l’Amour”), 1952
  • Hervé Guibert: 15 gelatin silver prints, 1976-1991
  • Sheree Hovsepian: 7 mixed media works consisting of gelatin silver prints, ceramic, wood, nails, artist’s tape, 2019, 2021, 2022
  • Clifford Prince King: 9 pigment prints, 2018, 2019, 2020
  • Leigh Ledare: “Double Bind” installation, 2010, including 1 ink on paper (conceptual script), 30 gelatin silver print diptych montages, 7 gelatin silver prints, 1 vitrine containing 416 gelatin silver prints in stacks (on black fabric), 1 vitrine with 324 gelatin silver prints in stacks (on white fabric), 1 vitrine assorted ephemera
  • Lin Zhipeng (No. 223): 6 chromogenic prints, 2005, 2006, 2009, 2011
  • Sally Mann: 9 gelatin silver prints (from “Proud Flesh”), 2003-2009
  • RongRong&inri: 24 inkjet print facsimiles of hand annotated gelatin silver prints, 2000
  • Collier Schorr: 9 gelatin silver prints (framed), 20 black-and-white/color reproductions (unframed), 1 ink drawing (framed), 1 ink drawing reproduction (unframed), 2020-2021
  • Karla Hiraldo Voleau: “Another Love Story” installation, 2022, including 4 large scale color photographs, 7 arrangements of smaller color prints (between 12 and 38 prints each), 8 text pages, hanging flowers and ribbons

(Installation shots below.)

A catalog of the exhibit has been published by the museum (here). Hardcover, with a foreword by David Little; text by Simon Baker and Sara Raza; and contributions by Frédérique Dolivet, Pascal Höel, Laurie Hurwitz, and Clothilde Morette. (Cover shot below.)

Comments/Context: The plausibly simple idea that love can be readily captured in a photograph is inherently fraught with complexity and difficulty. A camera can only record whatever is put in front of it, and so the process of trying to document the range of subtle but invisible emotions and feelings that come together as love ultimately becomes an indirect exercise, where gestures, glances, expressions, poses, touches, and charged moments are used as representations of (or stand-ins for) love itself. When the person behind the camera is intimately involved in the love being photographed, the sensitivities to emotional nuance are of course heightened and the access to private moments is perhaps better, but the fundamental challenges remain. Love can be slippery and oftentimes elusive, and photographing it successfully is even more so.

Love Songs: Photography and Intimacy gathers the work of sixteen photographers into a  thickly hung group show. Each photographer (or pair) is given plenty of space to tell their love story – either an entire small room, a large wall, or a few smaller walls – allowing more images to be presented and encouraging a deeper engagement with the sum of what is offered. This approach seems to acknowledge that the richness of love isn’t easily communicated in a single frame, but when a series of pictures can be seen together, the in-between moods of love have a better chance of being visible in aggregate.

A wide variety of relationships are included here, from the friction, awkwardness, and intense attraction of budding love to the more comfortable rhythms of long married couples and committed partners. In many ways, this is a show filled with the beginnings and endings of love, with love being closely examined in different stages and manifestations over time. There are pictures of torrid but fleeting affairs, misplaced affections, sentimental honeymoons, failing and failed couples, aching breakups, blissful connections, tender respect, and heartfelt loss, all swirled into one mass of imagery with the alternate perspectives and emotional states woven together.

The fresh (and sometimes passionate) searching quality of growing affection shows up in several projects. Motoyuki Daifu documents the exhausted, cluttered life of a single mother and her young boy with warmth and sensitivity, his images seen with the casual endearing joy of one smitten by his subject. Collier Schorr’s images made in collaboration with Angel Zinovieff document the tentative testing out of nude intimacies, of knowingly posing when being seen and slowly and quietly revealing more and more of one’s self. Clifford Price King searches for similar small intimacies, finding them in encounters behind a tree, under a sheet with a flashlight, in an empty meadow, or in the gentle touch of hands. And Lin Zhipeng’s images cover similar poetic ground in the throes of early love, with the passion of a kiss or the scrape of blood on a leg staged with more mannered expressiveness.

The grasping quality of these images then gives way to slower, deeper connections and intimacies, as couples settle into longer term relationships. Nobuyoshi Araki takes images of his new wife Yoko on their honeymoon in 1971, his eye initially catching her timidly resting on the train and in a rowboat, and later more casually seeing her nude body with affection, passion, and tenderness. René Groebli goes through similar stages with his new wife Rita (in 1952), capturing both the muted romance of her smoking a cigarette or lying seductively on the bed and the amorous new fondness to be found in her everyday routines of putting on makeup, fastening the clasp of her bra, or hanging up wet laundry. And RongRong&inri exchanged annotated photographs while the two were living apart (he in China, she in Japan), their romantic feelings amplified by the sharing of sensual images and notes. In all three of these bodies of work, one is voraciously seeing the other and sensitively responding to their growing attachment.

At the other end of the journey of love lies the eventual death of one partner or the other, and the wistfulness and loss that accompanies the one continuing on. Three projects in this show wrestle with the tangled emotions of love and mortality, making caring records of the last days and savoring moments of shared connection. Hervé Guibert looks back over his relationship with Thierry Jouno, both of whom would die of AIDS in the early 1990s; Jouno is seen nude under billowing veils like a bride, resting at his desk, reading in bed, and lying in the tub, each image a romantic encounter still charged with attraction and sensitivity. Sally Mann makes heroically decayed images of her husband Larry, who suffers from muscular dystrophy; using the 19th-century wet-plate collodion process, her images are richly imperfect, with her husband’s weakening body and the washes of chemical cracking and corrosion mixing in the shadows. And Nobuyoshi Araki returns with images made as his wife was dying, the hollow aching mood of the loss coming through in images of empty beds, hospital rooms, lonely cats, and snowy balconies.

But of course, not every love story has such a electrifying beginning or poignant end – most never quite make it past the initial stages of attraction, falling away into friction, misunderstanding, conflict, and ultimately collapse. Many of the rest of the photographers represented in this show tangle with the emotional landscape of their broken and failed relationships, often using their photography as a way to search for answers for why things went wrong. The shattering mix of sexual attraction and abuse found in Nan Goldin’s images from “The Ballad of Sexual Dependency” is an obvious choice for this fading love motif, but that doesn’t mean the photographs are any less powerful or relevant. Karla Hiraldo Voleau unpacks a failed relationship with a lover who was having an affair with another woman, mixing actual candids of Voleau and the man with re-staged pictures made with a hired model (all organized by month), making the unreliability, ambiguity, and play acting of the triangle situation all the more charged and confusing. Fouad Elkoury chronicles the final dissolution of his relationship, cleverly incorporating text snippets in his diaristic photographs and intermingling the last traumatic moments of personal connection with the 2006 bombing raids in Beirut. And Leigh Ledare pushes beyond the normal clean break conventions of the end of a marriage, asking his former wife to pose for him and then comparing images made by her new husband (in the same locations) with his own; tiny subtleties of tension and reluctance are replaced by freer expression in the two setups, capturing the noticeable shifts in mood and attitude between love lost and love found.

Love Songs: Photography and Intimacy does an admirable job of linking together the stages that make up the trajectory of love, and marking not only some of the paths to success but also those that have ended in failure. Photographically, there is clearly a performative aspect to the visual documentation of love, with lovers playing roles, following passions, and hiding selves early on, and slowly revealing more unguarded and authentic personas with the passing of time.

For the ICP, this show checks a number of boxes on its journey to cement its relevance in the 21st century. The exhibition pays homage to the documentary tradition which is the institution’s historical strength, and then bridges out to a broader and more inclusive group of photographs made in different conceptual modes and by a diverse (by race, gender, sexual orientation, and geography) selection of artists. The show also features an easy to like subject that can draw in a wider audience, from committed photography enthusiasts and locals to more casual tourists and summer visitors. And by relying on the cooperation of another photo institution (MEP in this case), it builds connections that can leveraged in the future while likely economizing in smart ways. While not entirely ground-breaking or perhaps even durably memorable, Love Songs: Photography and Intimacy is still an engaging and foundation-building summer show, providing both some positive short term momentum and a few hints of potential future directions.

Collector’s POV: Since this is a museum exhibition, there are of course no posted prices, and given the large number of photographers included in the show, we will forego our usual discussion of individual gallery representation relationships and secondary market histories.

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Read more about: Aikaterini Gegisian, Clifford Prince King, Collier Schorr, Ergin Çavuşoğlu, Fouad Elkoury, Hervé Guibert, Karla Hiraldo Voleau, Leigh Ledare, Lin Zhipeng (No. 223), Motoyuki Daifu, Nan Goldin, Nobuyoshi Araki, René Groebli, RongRong & inri, Sally Mann, Sheree Hovsepian, International Center of Photography

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Francesca Woodman @Gagosian

Francesca Woodman @Gagosian

JTF (just the facts): A total of 59 photographic works, generally framed in beige wood and matted, and hung against white walls in the divided gallery space. (Installation shots below.) ... Read on.

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