At the Amon Carter Museum, an Exhibit of Big Pictures Includes Some TKOs

Landscape, Kathy Sherman Suder (b. 1959)
Landscape, Kathy Sherman Suder (b. 1959)

Much of Big Pictures, the Amon Carter's large-format photography show, is about drama. It's approached from an oblique perspective and covers lots of historical ground, and it would have you believe (if you read the little essays posted on the exhibition walls) that the camera-recorded moment -- the still shot -- is somehow more honest than the "fictional, constructed scene" of film. But looks can deceive, and when they do, there is drama, as in Richard Prince's infamous appropriation of the Marlboro Man, whose quiet presence in this show undermines the argument on the wall.

So let's talk about boxing.

Boxing makes the best movies of the sports genre. Raging Bull. Rocky. Million Dollar Baby. When We Were Kings.

When you go to see Big Pictures, you will be greeted by Kathy Sherman Suder's photograph "Landscape," with its masculine beauty of a "boxer" in clean white shorts twisted to show his unblemished, shiny white back, glistening against a recessive background. From his posture, you might think this was shot post-action, except the guy is squeaky clean and I swear to God his shorts look pressed. This man is myth, and Suder's shot looks cinematic even before you enter the exhibition space because it's framed under a proscenium doorway that says "Big Pictures."

The exploration of the relationship between photography and reality begins. That image is closer to an advertisement than anything. It's pretty, indeed like a landscape, and it's boxing theme is a contrivance for appeal wholly foreign to Tyson, Ali and Fat DeNiro.

Martha Graham--Lamentation, Barbara Morgan (1900-1992). Printed by Modernage.
Martha Graham--Lamentation, Barbara Morgan (1900-1992). Printed by Modernage.

While some of the photographs are not all that big, they make up for their lack of size with alluring glimpses of places you haven't been, lives you haven't lived, people you'll never be, and the oldest among them suggest overlooked connections between the present and the past. A portrait of Martha Graham looks unhuman, desperate to change form by creating a shadow with no trace of human to it.

Hillsboro, Texas 1978, Frank Gohlke (b. 1942)
Hillsboro, Texas 1978, Frank Gohlke (b. 1942)

Frank Gohlke's "Hillsboro, Texas 1978" makes a common house in your own hometown into perfection of order, a geometrical concept that is overpoweringly physical when produced large. At that size, it's like a confrontational, shadowy face and it's pretty strange, but then I've always hated when houses laugh at me. And that's kind of the point: Are you seeing what's really there, or inventing your visual fictions? Big Pictures contains a lot of these moments, both delicate and bloated, elegant and manipulative, and poised on a line where photography turns into storytelling.

Understory Flareups, Fourth of July Creek, Valley Road Wild Fire, Custer County, Idaho, Laura McPhee
Understory Flareups, Fourth of July Creek, Valley Road Wild Fire, Custer County, Idaho, Laura McPhee

Big Pictures runs through April 21st at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art in Fort Worth.


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