MOCA Jacksonville: ReFocus- Photography in the 70s

July 14, 2012 0 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Gritty social documentation emerged beginning in the 1970s, when photographers such as Larry Clark and Nan Goldin documented alternative lifestyles involving drug addiction, transvestism, and casual sex. Such direct, unflinching photographs established intimate documentary work as an important genre in the late 20th century, continuing the example set by photographer Diane Arbus.

Photography and the New Document

With the exception of his important Tulsa series, Clark usually photographed in color, which added to the harsh sense of reality in his work; this represented a general move toward color among photographers of their generation. William Eggleston pushed the artistic boundaries of color by using it to explore the banality of small-town existence. Joel Meyerowitz, Stephen Shore, Barbara Kasten, and Franco Fontana were among the other prominent photographers of the period who used color expressively in landscapes, interiors, still lifes, and street scenes.

The documentation of artifacts, begun in the 19th century, continued to interest late 20th-century photographers. The German duo Bernd and Hilla Becher produced an extensive portrayal of industrial buildings such as mine tipples and factories, which they usually displayed in carefully planned arrangements of multiple prints. This sort of project combined traditional documentary conventions with late-20th century concepts theories about typologies.

The Museum of Contemporary Art in Jacksonville continues to examine the “Me Decade” that gave rise to Photorealism, Earthworks, and Conceptual Art and expanded the boundaries of Abstract Painting, Video, Performance and Installation Art.

As the 1970s dawned, American society was still reeling from the political and social upheavals of the 1960s and the artistic explosions that accompanied them. Artists and their public alike were experiencing a period of freedom and taboo-breaking unprecedented in American history. When the smoke cleared there seemed to be little left that artists had not tried or audiences had not seen.

Art during the 1970s became defined by fragmentation of artists and their audiences, the retreat from collective movements in favor of personal statements, and the desire to create new art forms by fusing existing forms, as well as stepping outside the confines of museums or galleries.

In the wake of the artistic innovations of the 1960s, movements and art forms that had seemed groundbreaking or revolutionary played themselves out. Exhausted by the revolutionary changes of the 1960s and disillusioned by the implosion of their Utopian ideals, artists rejected statements as irrelevant and instead concentrated on personal artistic goals. Still others, and much of the art audience at large, took refuge in nostalgia, seeking comfort in images that reflected the “lost innocence” of a pre-1960s America, she said.

Whatever they embraced, many artists sensed that reaching a single mass audience was increasingly unlikely or even undesirable and that their commercial appeal, especially in the face of the nation’s economic setbacks, was limited. The age of the artist as superstar seemed over. Unlike the 1950s and 1960s, which produced many celebrities in art, the 1970s progressed with the majority of its biggest talents working far from the mainstream and appreciated by a select, usually underground, audience.

More about Larry Clark
More about Nan Goldin
More about Diane Arbus

Drop in and check out the great retrospective at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Downtown Jacksonville.
For more information about the show (and the Museum) check out their website at: