At the last survey of new photography at the Museum of Modern Art two years ago, the atmosphere was so self-referential and hermetic that a visitor panted for oxygen. Often, the photos were images of images, taken off a computer screen or digitally created in the studio. It seemed as if photography, which continued to engage with the world after modernist painting and literature turned inward, had finally crumpled into solipsism.
A lot can change in two years. In response to the last exhibition and to the intervening political upheavals, the show “Being: New Photography 2018,” which opens on March 18, offers a broader and more stimulating range of work. The rubric of “Being,” which is defined as “notions of personhood and identity,” proves capacious enough to include portraiture, reportage, fashion, and pretty much everything you can turn a camera on. (The museum decided in 2016 to present exhibitions with a theme rather than simply highlighting promising photographers.) The show includes the work of 17 artists — two of whom collaborate as a team — all under 45.
The exhibition was orchestrated by Lucy Gallun, MoMA’s assistant curator of photography, who worked on the last one and agrees that this year’s represents a departure. “The strongest takeaway from the last show was about the dissemination of images and the way images circulate,” she said in a phone interview. “Here it’s a much more personal, intimate approach.” She added that she “tried to emphasize the diversity of approaches.” A sampling of artists included indicates she succeeded in that.
Although questions of racial and gender identity and politics perfume the air, the best photography in the show touches lightly, if at all, on these subjects. One artist who squarely addresses the political predicament is Stephanie Syjuco, 43, a Bay Area resident who was born in the Philippines and immigrated to this country when she was 3. Ms. Syjuco employs diverse formats — installations, performance and photography — to investigate such subjects as the distribution of goods under capitalism and the persistence of neocolonialism.