Gripped by the tendrils of social media, most people now consume heaps of photos each day. Such is the backdrop for “Ocean of Images: New Photography 2015,” the Museum of Modern Art’s 30th edition of its annual photography exhibition, which runs through March 20. Since its inception in 1985, “New Photography” has helped launch the careers of some of the most celebrated artists working in the medium, including Philip-Lorca diCorcia, Rineke Dijkstra, Viviane Sassen, and Wolfgang Tillmans. The show’s collective proverbial batting average is remarkably high—the 2010 edition alone featured the likes of Roe Ethridge, Elad Lassry, and Alex Prager, each of whom has since all but become a household name.
“Ocean of Images” announces its intention to play in our photo-saturated landscape with the inclusion of DIS magazine, the hyper-consumerist “post-Internet lifestyle magazine” and art collective known for its fake products, and stunts like a 2010 Kim Kardashian lookalike competition at Art Basel Miami Beach last year. For “Ocean,” DIS will contribute a video installation and light box that showcase its batch of uncanny, faux stock photography so convincing except for its models’ nihilism and overt sexuality. Stock photography also dominates the work of Basim Magdy, whose photos in “The Hollow Desire to Populate Imaginary Cities” (2014) series read like Instagrams designed to make you feel lonely. His film stock images are treated and exposed on metallic paper, yielding colors for factories and family vacations that resemble newly created artifacts.
But the filters, naturally, don’t end there. Enter the photography of Lieko Shiga, whose pictures document Japan’s 2011 Thoku tsunami and its aftermath, with filters and other manipulations to emphasize the eeriness— a result that plays on both filmic conventions and journalistic photography. Why just document when you can emote?
When places aren’t being literally destroyed by natural phenomena, they’re constantly slipping away. Witness Marina Pinsky’s two-sided photo sculpture with printed images that evoke Germany’s public spaces—a man waiting for a bus, a child at a marketplace. Or take a look at Indre Šerpytytė’s former NKVD– MVD–MGB–KGB buildings, which grew from an investigation into her father’s death. She recreated these Lithuanian buildings in wood and photographed them as though they were life-sized, their empty backgrounds so eerily devoid of significance that it’s almost as though she doesn’t know where to begin.
And this of course is the real mirror the show turns on us. For all our new-found, ever-growing photographic obsession, what we’re really trying to do when we ogle a party or stalk an ex is not seek a wider world, but reduce ours to something handheld and safe. “Ocean of Images” codifies our lurking. Here, we select some of the standouts in the show.