Kenneth Josephson: Photography Is

Exhibition Website

Sep 9 2016 - Jan 1 2017

This exhibition presents a brief survey of the work of Kenneth Josephson (American, born 1932), one of the most inventive photographers of the second half of the twentieth century.

Throughout his career, Josephson has explored photography’s central relationships: between light and shadow, flatness and depth, the real world and its representation, and the image and the object. In his work, these explorations take many different forms—multiple exposures, richly printed street photographs, landscapes, and pictures of pictures—but these disparate works all share one thing in common: every Josephson photograph refers back to itself or to the processes that created it. While these ideas might lead to dry, analytical images, in Josephson’s hands they result in playful, beautifully composed photographs that surprise, challenge and delight. In one, for example, he photographs his own shadow looking down into a ravine. As a result, his shadow is split by the depth of the ravine. In another, the strange silhouette of a car, which appears to be the result of darkroom manipulation, is in fact un-melted snow, preserved by the car’s shadow blocking the sun.

The world, as it exists in his photographs, seems to be made for photography, but sometimes Josephson is the one who made it. His early images of bright white ferns in the forest record the dappled light filtering through the trees. Later, however, he painted the leaves white himself and then recorded the results of his actions. Collectively, his work suggests a host of definitions for photography—photography is about lightness and darkness, about immediacy, about representation—but individually, each photograph seems to celebrate the existence of photography, to revel in the process that brought it into being, and to delight in the simple fact that photography is.

Exhibition overview from museum website

Whether you go or not, The Light of Coincidence: The Photographs of Kenneth Josephson, is the definitive, career-spanning retrospective of Kenneth Josephson's work and one of the few volumes ever published on this major artist. Josephson has worked in series over long periods of time, and this book beautifully reproduces representative selections from every series, including Josephson's best-known Images within Images. Lynne Warren places Josephson's art in historical context, from his early studies with Aaron Siskind and Harry Callahan at the Institute of Design and with Minor White at the Rochester Institute of Technology, to his mature work, which shares affinities with that of conceptual artists such as Cindy Sherman and Ed Ruscha, to his shaping influence on generations of students at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where he taught for over thirty-five years. Preeminent photo historian Gerry Badger's foreword confirms Josephson's stature as an artist who has explored "in a thoroughly creative and complex, yet accessible, way, the perhaps narrow but infinitely deep gap between actuality and image."

Kenneth Josephson is one of the foremost conceptual photographers in America. Since the early 1960s, when institutions such as MoMA privileged photography in the documentary mode, Josephson has championed the photograph as an object "made," not taken, by an artist pursuing an idea. Using innovative techniques such as placing images within images and including his own body in photographs, Josephson has created an outstanding body of work that is startlingly contemporary and full of ideas that stimulate the digital generation—ideas about the nature of seeing, of "reality," and of human aspirations, and about what it means to be a human observing the world.

  • Photography
  • American
  • 20th Century
  • Kenneth Josephson

Exhibition Venues & Dates