on view through June 16, 2013
Kenneth Josephson, New York State, 1970. Gelatin silver print. 10-7/8 x 13-7/8 inches. Collection of the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art. Purchase, through National Endowment for the Arts grant and matching gift of Mr. and Mrs. Frederic Renfert.
This teaching page is a resource to help you prepare your students for their visit to the museum and extend the discussion after your visit. Here, you can find information on the art, the artist, key ideas, discussion questions, and additional resources. You can also download a pdf of this teaching page and a large image of New York State. New York State is on view May 11, 2012 through June 16, 2013.
It is easy to see that New York State is a photograph of a photograph held against the sea. Familiar photographic cues are here: objects such as an arm, a ship, and an expanse of water are recognizable and true to what is expected in regard to forms in the “real world.” Black, white, and gray color values and the rectangular shape of the images are familiar elements of many photographs. The perspective makes sense, appearing to originate in and extend from the eye of the person holding the picture. From these signs, New York State seems to be an amusing portrayal of reality, since a real arm is holding a picture of a real boat against the horizon line in a position mimicking the place a ship would really float.
Photographs are generally assumed to be depictions of the real world, especially if their content is made up of familiar objects in recognizable relationship with each other. A hand connected to an arm stretched over water calls forth certainty that an actual person is reaching over a railing on the edge of land or on a boat. The picture of a ship positioned to take up space against a distant horizon line is intended to tap the viewer’s assumptions about truthful representation according to size and scale, but it also draws attention to the premise that photographic reality is constructed through artist choice.
The subject of the photograph is photography itself, and the ways that life is documented, manipulated, trivialized, and celebrated with photographs. Kenneth Josephson found a snapshot of a ship taken by an anonymous photographer and used it for a postcard, and he employed it to convey his conviction that what is being viewed is not as important as engaging with the ideas behind it. The “reality” New YorkState depicts is the reality he created with the choices he made, similar to the choices that artists make for other kinds of art—subject, materials, composition, and emphasis.
Kenneth Josephson began taking photographs and developing them in a basement darkroom when he was twelve years old. After high school in Detroit, Michigan, he worked at General Motors Corporation as a messenger for the factory’s photography lab and then enrolled in the photography program at Rochester Institute of Technology. He was drafted into the Army and worked in an Army photo lab in Germany, printing Air Force photographers’ aerial views for mapping and intelligence. He later earned a Master of Science degree from the Institute of Design in Chicago in 1960 and became the first full-time instructor of photography at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. His work evolved from an early interest in multiple image photography to his mature, conceptual works in which the idea is more important than the visual experience.
- photography as an expression of ideas rather than documentation of reality
- humor and striking visual arrangements as vehicles for conveying information about photographic truth and illusion
- reality as a construction from individual choices and experience
- Who might be the person holding the picture of the ship? If it is the artist, in what ways does he “stand in” for the viewer of the work of art?
- In what ways has this artist conveyed clues that the image is not “real?”
- In what ways does an artist create reality by making a photograph?
- What are some ways people create their own realities? Is reality already at hand, available to be discovered? Can we discover it if we haven’t already experienced its components?
On the Artist: