First Doubt: Optical Confusion in Modern Photography: Selections from the Allan Chasanoff Collection (Yale University Art Gallery)

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9780300141337: First Doubt: Optical Confusion in Modern Photography: Selections from the Allan Chasanoff Collection (Yale University Art Gallery)
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Many photographers have been intrigued with the baffling distortions―both subtle and disquieting―that can occur when the camera “captures” the real world. Not always intentional, some images dazzle with impossible juxtapositions or disorienting spatial orders, while others confound the viewer’s belief in the documentary promise of photography.

 

Drawn from the highly respected collection of Allan Chasanoff, the photographs in this intriguing volume confront viewers with the challenge of doubt and confusion in so-called “straight” pictures. Featured are perceptually provocative images by Manuel Alvarez Bravo, Clarence John Laughlin, Imogen Cunningham, and Lee Friedlander, among others. The book’s essays raise awareness of the interpretive nature of the lens and the interpolative nature of the medium.

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About the Author:

Joshua Chuang is the Assistant Curator of Photographs at the Yale University Art Gallery. Allan Chasanoff is a conceptual photographer, collector, and protagonist. Steven W. Zucker is the David and Lucile Packard Professor of Computer Science and Electrical Engineering at Yale University.

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Allan Chasanoff, on whose collection this absorbing album draws, is particularly fond of unaltered photographs that resist immediate recognition. Such images, because photography is a two-dimensional medium, confuse the eye’s three-dimensional perception. At least initially, one doesn’t know precisely what one is looking at. Take Eliot Elisofon’s untitled 1940s picture of the long shadows of a number of persons. The shadows appear to be thrown on a wall, and the perpendicularity of the camera to the shadows’ plane suppresses perceiving the bodies casting them. Moreover, in every return to the image, the shadows again seem more substantial than the solids that throw them. The fact that most of the photos are black-and-white certainly facilitates their ambiguity. Where is the sky, one wonders, after establishing that Dave Bohn’s picture shows not some liquid’s texture but snow-smothered mountains. Yet Leslie Knippen’s full-color “Untitled #17” is as, maybe more, dumbfounding. The work of superbly skilled professionals, these photographs attest that even before digital monkeying could make any picture untrustworthy, believing one’s eyes could be a gamble. --Ray Olson

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