The International Center of Photography (ICP) in New York City opened its doors in 1974 in an effort to highlight photojournalism and the impact it has on a society. Since then, the ICP has continued to showcase powerful photography and videography that lives and breathes in today’s culture. ICP has designated 2017 as the “Year of Social Change” and has created the exhibit, Perpetual Revolution: The Image and Social Change to explore the social and historic impact of visual culture.
There are six separate categories within the exhibit. These include, “Black Lives (Have Always) Mattered,” “Fluidity of Gender,” “Climate Changes,” “ISIS and the Terror of Images,” “The Flood: Refugees and Representation” and “The Right-Wing Fringe and the 2016 Election.”
Organized by Carol Squiers, in collaboration with Quito Ziegler, “The Fluidity of Gender” section explores the queer and trans community’s range of creative, social, and political self-expression. The exhibit combines projected, streamed, and printed photographs with films and music videos to explore the gender spectrum. Squiers says the most powerful piece in the collection is a large collage by Darnell Davis and Zachary Wager Scholl called We Went Looking For Our Friends.
“The collage combines a century of archival imagery of gender nonconforming people from the 1890s to the 1990s, including three video clips, one of Christine Jorgensen, a former GI who underwent gender reassignment surgery in the 1950s, another of the famed drag performer and trans activist Marsha P. Johnson, and a third of Linda Simpson’s documentation of drag queens in the 1980s and 1990s.”
Possibly one of the most digitally engaging sections is “The Flood: Refugees and Representation,” inspired by the dramatic imagery surrounding the influx of refugees to Europe over the last five years. Joanna Lehan, adjunct curator says, “I wanted to explore the most iconic images that circulate, and examine tropes in visual language surrounding the crises. These images were occasioned by the war in Syria, as well as war, persecution, and extreme poverty in Iraq, Afghanistan, Sudan, Eritrea and elsewhere.”
The exhibit highlights our digital ecosystem and by using a mix of photography, video and multimedia installations, the audience is invited to fully reflect on the way they experience these images. The central piece in this section is a multimedia work commissioned by Turkish artist Hakan Topal called Untitled (Ocean), 2017. Lehan says she is the most proud of this piece. “It contends with the viral image of Alyan Kurdi, the three-year-old Syrian child who drowned off the coast of Turkey, when his desperate family attempted to flee to Europe in a flimsy, overloaded boat. The work uses images found on the Internet along with 3D animation and documentary footage; all projected onto limestone.”
Lehan concludes, “The exhibition draws attention to the notion that not just empathy, but evocations of history, and even fear, can be mobilized by these images, depending on your politics. I hope by doing so, I’m offering a reminder that sometimes we need to do more than scroll by images, tsk our pity, or cluck our disapproval, and move on. Sometimes we need to educate ourselves to complexities, and act– in both the personal and political realms– with compassion.”
The stories on display in the “Black Lives (Have Always) Mattered” section range from everyday African-American life to World War I soldiers and black members of the South Carolina legislature during Reconstruction.
“I hope to show the audience how crucial images have been to instigating social change. Black people have known the power of this type of representation since photo was invented, and images (especially the ones generated through the Internet) are now continuing the movement of political rights,” says Kalia Brooks, the section’s adjunct curator. Brooks says that she was inspired by the #BlackLivesMatter movement because of its effectiveness in moving a critical mass of people from social media to political activism in the streets.
This portion of the exhibit has images dating back from the time of abolition to present day. From photos of Martin Luther King Jr. to an entire wall of images playing on 32 monitors dedicated to the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., Brooks says it’s difficult to choose one piece as the most powerful. “There are many powerful pieces, and it’s the totality of the string images within the collection that make it so essential as a collection, archive and resource of visual history.”
Perpetual Revolution: The Image and Social Change is open to the public from January 27 to May 7, 2017 at the ICP Museum located at 250 Bowery.