Photography at LACMA

Many shows lumping together because I was too blitzed from Turrell to see them all properly.* There are a lot of photography shows there right now. From what I could tell, they’re all pretty good too.

*I saw the Calder show while I was waiting for my timed entry to Turrell.

Untitled. Series: My Trip to New York. Judy Fiskin
Untitled. Series: My Trip to New York. by Judy Fiskin

The first show is See the Light. It’s another personal-collection show so I was a little bit on alert for name-dropping. I shouldn’t have worried. This show avoids a lot of the “I’m a collector” pitfalls because it’s not “big name” dominated nor does it show any “collect them all” tendencies. Instead what we see are lots of photos, nicely grouped by specific subject matter.

It’s a good approach for a show like this. Lots to see and appreciate. Nothing overwhelming. A decent place to learn more about photography if you’re only just getting into the medium. Enough obscure things to interest experts.

Nathan Lyons. Untitled. 1962-74
Nathan Lyons

I very much enjoyed looking through the galleries, relaxing my brain, and taking note of anyone new who stood out to me. In this case, Judy Fiskin, Kozo Miyoshi, and Nathan Lyons. Fiskin looks to be making contact prints from 6×6 negatives—something I didn’t think would be practical but the results are surprisingly striking. Miyoshi’s work was just super interesting. And Lyons was framing things in ways which broke the rules but which worked tremendously well for me.

At the back of this exhibition was a small gallery devoted to a newish David Hockney piece. I’d read about these before and kind of went “blah” about the premise. They’re much more interesting than I expected and are more like video joiners despite being in arranged in a grid. As video camera costs continue to decrease, it’ll be interesting to see where these kind of pieces go.

There’s also a room of John Divola photos. This room is part of a larger exhibition which covers three different museums. I’m not sure this approach works in this case* and felt a bit underwhelmed with what was available at LACMA. It wasn’t bad, just not enough to transcend the sense that the work is merely clever. I liked what I saw though. The movie sets as landscape concept is interesting and works as a nice blend of Cindy Sherman and Sugimoto. I also liked the “As Far as I Could Get” series though I found myself thinking about variations of the theme (so not just running away from the camera) more than the photos on hand.

*The Turrell exhibition was also actually in multiple museums but this felt okay since his work seems too large for one museum to be able to handle everything. And because what was available in LACMA was sufficient to really get to understand his work.

Gabriel Figueroa. La Perla.
Gabriel Figueroa. La Perla.

The last photography show is the massive Gabriel Figueroa show. Holy crap. I needed another day at LACMA to properly view this one. Or a massive caffeine hit since there’s no other way to view this and Turrell on the same day. It’s excellent and works really well when paired with the Itinerant Languages of Photography show I saw at Princeton. Where that show just scratched the surface of the vibrant visual culture in Mexico, this one is overflowing with movies, posters, stills, photography, etc.

Mexico is a visual place with a culture that trades on visual imagery. Amazes me still that so much of this was missing from Photography in Mexico. The Figueroa show rides his work but pulls in artists and threads from all over into the realm of visual imagery generated by him and the Mexican movie industry.

Outside influences like Weston, Modotti, and Strand are present. Manual Alvarez Bravo’s movie work is here too. Movie stills which reference the original revolution photos such as the Soldaderas are there as well. As is the cross-olllination between Mexican and US films. And the evolution of Mexican visual culture as it evolves past what Figueroa is referencing to making him the reference point for new works.

I’m considering buying the catalog (or at least downloading the app) just because this show deserves more attention than I could give it. What I saw was great enough. That this show is in LACMA and is 100% culturally relevant to LA is also great to see.* I love it when museums are locally relevant like this.

*Unlike my visit to the Page Museum with its human civilization timeline which only mentions Mediterranean civilizations. No mention of what humans are doing in Mesoamerica or Asia despite the vibrant cultures there and the fact that those cultures are more directly important to many LA residents.

Author: Nick Vossbrink

Blogging about Photography, Museums, Printing, and Baseball Cards from both Princeton New Jersey and the San Francisco Bay Area. On Twitter as @vossbrink, WordPress at, and the web at

2 thoughts on “Photography at LACMA”

  1. Pingback: LACMA | n j w v

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