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Sam Contis. Denim Dress. 2014. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Acquired through the generosity of Thomas and Susan Dunn © 2018 Sam Conti

moma’s new photography series asks what it means to be human

André-Naquian Wheeler

André-Naquian Wheeler

Six photographers talk about their work in the standout show.

Sam Contis. Denim Dress. 2014. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Acquired through the generosity of Thomas and Susan Dunn © 2018 Sam Conti

Last year, New York’s Department of Cultural Affairs found almost half of NYC artists can not afford art supplies. As a result, MoMA’s New Photography series — which has run every two years since 1985 — shines a necessary spotlight on emerging talent, devoting wall space to photographers who have never shown in the museum before. The latest iteration is titled Being: New Photography and, as its name suggests, the exhibition explores what it means to be human today. This year, the 88-year-old institution called on 17 artists from eight different countries to provide their own interpretations.

The breadth of themes found in Being is its most striking aspect. The young photographers boldly dissect and expand upon representations of womanhood, queerness, and blackness. One of the most distinctive pieces is My Birth by Carmen Winant. The hallway-spanning work features photos of women giving birth taped onto the walls. The Ohio-based artist puts the beauty, gore, and pain of childbirth on full display. When you look at the found vintage photos, it’s difficult not to think about how the reproductive rights of women have been under attack.

Carmen Winant. My Birth (detail). 2018. Site-specific installation of found images, tape. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Photo: Martin Seck. © 2018 Carmen Winant

This kind of eye-catching approach illustrates how the emerging generation of photographers are set to disrupt the art world. “I’ve gone to past New Photography exhibitions as a visitor,” photographer Paul Mgpai Supya tells i-D. Paul commonly employs self-portraiture to explore blackness in relation to the male body. “I remember the past shows with Deana Lawson, Barbara Probst, Moyra Davey… and they blew me away and I can still recall the moment of first encountering Probst’s double portraits. Each one of them, and many others, have influenced my work and pushed me to work harder. To actually be included in this current iteration of Being feels like the biggest reward for my risk-taking, work, and dedication to keeping making artwork — especially when I almost gave up on it just five years ago.”

Here, i-D talks to six artists featured in Being: New Photography about what it means to be a young photographer in 2018.

Sam Contis. Junction. 2015. Gelatin silver print, 30 × 23 3/4" (76.2 × 60.3 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Acquired through the generosity of Thomas and Susan Dunn. © 2018 Sam Contis


Sam Contis

Describe your work in one sentence.
It investigates the construction of myth, place, and identity.

What themes and ideas do you find yourself interested exploring in your work?
The American West is one obvious theme… the image-culture of it. But at the same time it’s about broader themes, like notions of representation and performance. I’m interested in the role the camera plays in our coming to understand ourselves and our environment.

What is your technical process?
I tend to make pictures out in the world. The studio for me is a place to read, research, write, and edit. These two spaces are equally important in my practice. There’s no hierarchy between picture-making and editing. Sequencing allows me to see in a new way all over again. In Deep Springs I wanted to create something that incorporates a lot of different ways of making pictures, both formally and technically. I was trying to see what new thing I could build up from seemingly disparate elements. That happened in the editing.

What is your favourite photo you have taken?
As I was making this work, I realised that some of the pictures that excited me most were the closeups. I followed this impulse and continually tried to get closer and closer. When I photographed a figure, for example, you could follow my movements through my contact sheets and see that what might start as a picture of someone at work would end up as an abstract texture of a fragmented body. In the end I think the closeups were a way of creating a sense of touch in the work. It reflected an intimacy, not only between the young men, but also in their relationship with the land.

samcontis.com

Andrzej Steinbach. Untitled (Figur I) from the series Figur I, Figur II. 2015. Courtesy the artist and Galerie Conradi, Brussels and Hamburg. © 2018 Andrzej Steinbach

Andrzej Steinbach

What is your background?
I was born in 1983 Poland. I grew up in Karl Marx Stadt East Germany, now named Chemnitz. I studied Fine Art and photography at the Academy of Fine Arts Leipzig. Currently I am living and working as an artist in Berlin.

When did you first start photography?
When I was 15 years old, my grandfather gave me his old Practica FX3. Since then I have been passionately interested in photography.

What themes and ideas do you find yourself interested exploring in your work?
Socio-cultural inscriptions, culture, and history — the meaning those things have for individuals and the process of building their identities. The portrait and its ideological uses have always been a point of departure for explorations of the current state of a society as well as changes brewing in it.

What is your technical process?
For a few years I’ve worked only with digital cameras. Each project takes about 5 months preparation, including research, conceptual elaboration, and casting. After that I shoot for two to five days and edit the material into a body of work.

andrzejsteinbach.de

Paul Mpagi Sepuya. Untitled. 2017. Courtesy the artist, Yancey Richardson Gallery, New York, and Document, Chicago. © 2018 Paul Mpagi Sepuya

Paul Mgpai Sepuya

What is your background?
Former arts administrator, unsuccessful freelancer, hustler, dinner host, party host, Scorpio, successful collaborator, teacher, friend, lover, photographer, full-time artist.

Describe your work in one sentence.
No tricks, no gimmicks.

What artists do you like to for inspiration?
I go first to text. Richard Bruce Nugent, Truman Capote, and Virginia Woolf had it all figured out. I’m inspired by the erotics of friendship, and mutual objectification and care. There are too many good artists to list, and my bookshelves are full.

What is your technical process?
I do not care for playing around with camera equipment. I stick to two cameras and my iPhone and always shoot with the longest lens. I only use natural light, a skylight, or whatever light is on location if I’m shooting outside of my studio. There is no retouching or compositing in my pictures. Everything is a single exposure, so post-production editing is definitely out. I like to keep my thinking, experimentation, and play to what’s in front of me with as few unnecessary variables as possible.

What does being part of Being: New Photography mean to you?
I’ve gone up to MoMA as a visitor to past New Photography exhibitions. I remember the past shows with Deana Lawson, Barbara Probst, Moyra Davey… and they blew me away and I can still recall the moment of first encountering Probst’s double portraits. Each one of them, and many others, have influenced my work and pushed me to work harder. Though I moved back to Los Angeles four years ago, New York still feels very much like home. So to actually be included in this current iteration of Being feels like the biggest reward for that risk-taking, work, and dedication to keeping making artwork when I almost gave up on it just five years ago.

paulsepuya.com

Em Rooney. Elliot. 2015. Courtesy the artist and Bodega, New York. © Em Rooney 2018

Em Rooney

When did you first start photography?
When I was in high school. I printed in a community darkroom.

What themes and ideas do you find yourself interested exploring in your work?
I often speak with my students about how for many of us, especially in economically developed areas, photos, or pixel-based images, have become the stuff of life — like air. They are everywhere. The democratic nature of photography has been exploited and is now capitalised on by companies trying to buy us or sell to us. Because of this, I am always trying to get away from them, and their violence. Sometimes I make video as a way to open up space for nuance to present itself — the nuance of a place or a subject — a cure to the truncated and essentialising still. Sometimes I let the photos be blurry or “bad,” or I describe them instead of sharing them, in the spirit of Herve Guibert. Sometimes I exclude them entirely and use sculptural forms as semantic stand-ins for people or places.

What is your technical process?
I use whatever I’ve got. My cell phone, a DSLR, screen grabs that I turn into digital negatives, a Nikon 35mm camera, sometimes I hand colour them, sometimes I shoot with my 4x5 camera. I used to do that a lot more, and I’ve certainly been inspired by artists like Dawoud Bey, Catherine Opie, Peter Hujar — people who’ve done portraiture in this way, using medium or large format cameras in highly considered lighting situations. I have a lot of portraits I’ve taken like that, but I tend to not show them. They’re too good and can look editorial. I’ve never really known how to situate them inside the project of my work. I would love to, on the one hand, make editorial photographs, but on the other—they’ve got no place in my particular method of artistic production. There is one image in the show that is more or less a traditional portrait, in that style, that I took with my 4x5 camera— Elliot. The only reason I was able to reconcile with it is that I accidentally exposed the negative twice in the camera, so the imageness of it is no longer clear.

bodega-us.org/em-rooney

Joanna Piotrowska. XXXI, FROWST. 2013-2014. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Carol and David Appel Family Fund © 2018 Joanna Piotrowska

Joanna Piotrowska

What is your background?
I am a Polish, female artist that has lived in London for 6 years. I moved here from Warsaw to study at the Royal College of Art. I started to take pictures when I was in my first year studying product design at Academy of Fine Arts in Cracow, Poland. I was quite eager to study so I simultaneously enrolled for a photography course at a weekend film school in Warsaw. I was around 19 years old at the time.

What themes and ideas do you find yourself interested exploring in your work?
I’m most interested in exploring human vulnerability and the sense of loneliness created by hierarchies and power dynamics within relationships.I feel skeptical about the world at the moment and I’m not sure if art can effectively challenge societal norms. I do, however maintain hope that the collective activity of all people doing what they love in all sorts of disciplines can turn the world into a better place to live.

What is your favourite photo you have taken so far?
It’s the picture of my boyfriend having a laugh attack when we were enjoying an afternoon in Hampstead Heath. We were in the midst of playing a strategy board game called Abalone and he was just about to beat me. He was enjoying it a little too much so I smashed the board before he could win.

joannapiotrowska.com

Matthew Connors. Mask in Reverse. 2016. Courtesy the artist © 2018 Matthew Connors

Matt Connors

What is your background?
I have had a lifelong engagement with the medium with photography. Since my teenage years in a quintessential commuter town on Long Island, I have been energised by the possibilities of photographing in the public sphere and the revelatory potential of pictures. I have studied the medium formally and informally, and my approach has been shaped as much by my education in literature, cinema studies, social philosophy and art, as my experiences with students while teaching at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design in Boston since 2004. For the past six years,I have been using photography to examine the frictions between states and their citizenry. This has led me to haunt the periphery of revolutionary activity in Cairo; embed myself in the Occupy movement in New York; chart the legacy of revolutionary monuments in Cuba; and glimpse the mechanisms of totalitarianism in North Korea. With all this work my goal has been to navigate between reportage, poetry, and surrealism to find different visual idioms that can render these currents of history with emotional urgency.

When did you first start photography?
My parents bought me a 110 film camera as a present for my First Communion when I was 9 years old, but I would say my relationship with the medium didn’t really take hold until I was 15. That year I set up a makeshift darkroom in my basement and outfitted it with my uncle’s old enlarger. It was a small room underneath the staircase I built from old wood my father had lying around. At first it didn’t have a sink and the door was a curtain I made from duct-taping trash bags together. My exhaust system was a fan I tore off the bottom of an old air hockey table and bolted into the wall. That little room changed my life.

What does being part of this exhibition mean to you?
I have been making this work in North Korea for several years, and am glad it will be reaching a wider audience during such a critical moment in their rapidly unfolding history. It will be interesting to see how people receive the photographs here in America in light of the recent developments on the geopolitical stage and the further deterioration of relations [with North Korea] under our current administration.

mattconnors.info

Being: New Photography is on display at the MoMA until 19 August, 2018. You can find out more info here.

This article originally appeared on i-D US.