Review of Barbara Probst and Jonathan Monk Exhibit at MOMA

Although I’ve been to the MOMA over a thousand times, I appreciated having the opportunity to go with the class this past week, as it gave me the chance to check out the new photography exhibit.  Moreover, as I usually frequent the museum by myself, it was interesting to be accompanied by my peers and observe the array of reactions to the work. Discussions triggered disagreement in some cases and mutual admiration in others.  By and large, however, I found that much of the work that I disliked, others were drawn to for one reason or another.  For instance, the exhibition on the first floor didn’t particularly appeal to me at all, especially compared to the photography.  My preference for the photo exhibit is perhaps rooted in a biased preference for the medium.  Primarily, I was attracted to the work of Barbara Probst and Jonathan Monk.

The artists constituting the photography exposition were, as curator Marcoci states, selected in light of their ability to push “the boundaries of the medium.” Barbara Probst photographic approach offers a range of perspectives.  One image that particularly struck me as compelling is composed in such a way that there are three subjects, two of which with cameras in hand: one loaded with black and white film, the other with color.  The three subjects are situated in a row and the individual in the middle is looking towards one of the two cameras.  Two photographs are taken simultaneously of the same subject, rendering two images from two different perspectives.  The black and white picture is taken from behind the woman, delineating her back in the foreground, and a man sporting a camera in the background.  In the other image the perspective shifts to the front of the woman, depicting her face.  Yet, this time the photograph is in color and the like the adjacent image harbors an individual in the background with a camera.  It takes several moments before one is able to discern how the pair was executed.  I find her approach novel, and in a sense her work offers  “new interpretations of the traditional idea that photography can freeze a moment in time” (Marcoci).

Jonathan Monk’s work also deals with the distortion of time and perspective.  The first half of his exposition is constituted of old family photographs laced with words that alters the expected reaction of the observer.  In the following room, Monk covers a wall with fifty individually framed printing paper “holders” (for lack of a better word).  I perceived this simplistic repetition as a swing at conceptualizing the process of photography.   In the center of a room, a slide projector sits throwing images from different countries and hemispheres onto the white wall.  Meanwhile, another projector sends fragmented sentences and words onto a wall perpendicular to the aforementioned.  The beauty of this installation is that initially one assumes that the writing on the wall corresponds with the incessantly changing images.  However, it is quite the contrary, and one find themselves befuddled when trying to link the line “grandma in Montana” with a photograph of a Shivite in India.  Jonathan Monk, like Barbara Probst, challenges our preconceived perceptions of the limitations of perspective and redefines the possibilities of photography.

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