Suspending Time: Life—Photography—Death
April 3-August 20, 2010
Guest curator: Geoffrey Batchen, photo historian
L.F.Cramer (cherryvale, Kansan), Women in white dress unveiling a framed portrait of a women, c. 1890
Albumen photograph on card (cabinet card).
   Suspending Time: Life-Photography-Death was guest curated by the renowned photo historian Geoffrey Batchen. His work has recently attracted international attention, and his books have been translated into several languages including Japanese. Forget Me Not: Photography and Remembrance, an exhibition Batchen curated in 2004 that originated at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, explored the relationship between photography and memory. Conceived as a sequel to Forget Me Not, this exhibition examines the relationship between photography and time. Drawn primarily from Batchen’s own photographic collection, the approximately three hundred works on exhibit include framed daguerreotypes and photographic jewelry, genres of photography which are rarely found in Japanese museums.

   Photographs have been exhibited in art museums for quite some time now, having received eventual acceptance as an artistic genre on par with painting and sculpture. Most of the photographic objects one finds in Suspending Time, however, are those made by anonymous photographers and artisans, and then used and cherished by ordinary people according to the customs of each period and place. Researchers have called those kinds of photographic objects “vernacular photography” as a means to distinguish them from art photography. As Batchen, who is known for his expertise in this genre of photography, insists, if we think about photography seriously, we need to pay attention to vernacular photographies, not just the “masterpieces” of art photography.

   A large portion of these photographs were commonplace when they were made, but in our eyes, given our temporal and cultural distance from their original contexts, they look quite extraordinary. Although photography employs the technique of reproduction, the works on display often exist as unique objects, in which photographs become incorporated into various other materials by the hands of their makers and/or owners. The appeal of these objects, which are not just meant to attract the viewer’s eye but also to stimulate a sense of touch, cannot be fully experienced until one stands in front of them.

Makers unknown (United States), Portrait of a young woman with wax flower wreath,, c. 1890
Albumen photograph, copper plate with impressed words “At Rest,” wax flowers and butterflies, woven human hair, wooden frame with glass. 87.2 × 83 .0 × 19.0 cm.

This portrait is surrounded by wax flowers and butterflies with a plate that states “At Rest.” They symbolize a new life after death.
Makers unknown (United States), Portrait of a girl in glass paperweight, c.1910s
Gelatin silver photograph, woven human hair, glass, black felt. 10.0 × 6.0 × 1.6 cm.

In this glass paperweight a lock of hair that probably belonged to this girl is woven into the shape of a heart. In nineteenth-century America ornaments made of human hair were usually woven by the hands of women.
Makers unknown (United States), Portrait of a girl, c. 1850
Half-plate daguerreotype, gilt and painted mat, gilt and painted wood frame with glass. 33.8 × 30.7 × 2.5 cm.

The daguerreotype, introduced in 1839, is the first photographic process to be practiced commercially. The elaborately decorated frame demonstrates that newly invented photographic portraits owed much to the long tradition of paintings.
   Among the various appeals and possibilities of photography, Suspending Time essentially explores “the capacity of photography to suspend its subjects between life and death, allowing those subjects to defeat the otherwise fatal onset of passing time.” The iei (photographic portrait of the deceased) familiar to the Japanese can also be understood within this capacity of photography. By featuring works from various places in the world, including Europe, the United States, Mexico, Australia, and Japan, the exhibition attempts to demonstrate different views of life and death, the concept of time, and the meaning of portraits as they exist in different cultures.

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   This exhibition is about the capacity of photography to suspend its subjects between life and death, allowing those subjects to defeat the otherwise fatal onset of passing time. Only photographs can provide this suspension, a quality that is, according to French scholar Roland Barthes, the source both of photography's ecstasy and its madness.
   Suspending Time: Life—Photography—Death surveys a variety of ways in which this capacity has been exploited within vernacular photographic practices, from the mid-nineteenth century until today. The exhibition features clusters of particular photographic genres that each demonstrates, as Barthes says, a "fascination with what has died but is represented as wanting to be alive."
   Some of these genres turn a moment from the past into a presence that is solid and physical, while others combine a photograph with hair, paint or writing to offer a multisensory experience that complicates our usual understanding of both memory and time. A number of works embody the tension of reconciling past and present, and tradition with modernity. Particularly striking is a group of snapshots that feature the shadow of the photographer, thereby incorporating both the act of photographing and the spectral presence of the photographer, who is simultaneously inside and outside the picture, there and not there, alive and dead.

Geoffrey Batchen, Guest Curator

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Geoffrey Batchen
teaches the history of photography at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. His previous
exhibitions have been shown at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, the National Museum of Iceland in Reykjavik,
the National Media Museum in Bradford (UK), the International Center of Photography in New York, and the
Wallraf-Richartz-Museum in Cologne. His books include Burning with Desire: The Conception of Photography (The
MIT Press, 1997); Each Wild Idea: Writing , Photography, History (The MIT Press, 2001); Forget Me Not: Photography and Remembrance (Van Gogh Museum & Princeton Architectural Press, 2004); William Henry Fox Talbot (Phaidon, 2008);
Photography Degree Zero: Reflections on Roland Barthes’s Camera Lucida (The MIT Press, 2009); Shashin no arukeoroji (Tokyo: Seikyusha, 2010), translated by Osamu Maekawa, Morihiro Satow and Akihisa Iwaki.

Lecture: What is Vernacular Photography?
Geoffrey Batchen in conversation with Morihiro Sato and Osamu Maekawa.

April 3, 2010 2:30 pm – 4:30 pm
[Exhibition catalogue]
Suspending Time: Life-Photography-Death
Texts in English and Japanese by Geoffrey Batchen, Yoshiaki Kai, and Masashi Kohara/ Book design by Takuma Hayashi/ Published by IZU PHOTO MUSEUM and NOHARA

Seiichi Furuya: Aus den Fugen May 21, 2010—August 31, 2010 (originally exhibited in 2007)
 at the Vangi Sculpture Garden Museum