Inside a Calming New Photography Exhibition Dedicated to Domestic Spaces

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KONTTINEN Sirkka Liisa_Emma Dowds 1982
Sirkka Liisa Konttinen, Emma Dowds (Step by Step series), 1982© Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen, Courtesy of L. Parker Stephenson Photographs, New York

A new exhibition in New York, curated by Alec Soth, brings together powerful photographs of private interiors captured by some of the biggest names in photography

As The Photography Show from the Association of International Photography Art Dealers (AIPAD) arrives in New York for its 39th edition, a wealth of galleries and publishers from around the world have created exhibits for the four-day event. From exhibitions – Louise Alexander Gallery is showing a selection of rare Guy Bourdin photographs, for example – to book signings with the likes of Charles Traub and Mona Kuhn, the city’s Pier 94 will house the best in contemporary and historic photography.

A special exhibit also arrives by way of Alec Soth, the acclaimed photographer who is this time taking on the role of curator: A Room for Solace: An Exhibition of Domestic Interiors is a collection of images that depict intimacy via interiors. Central to the exhibition is the idea of respite, and how by capturing private scenes photographers are able to present a view of the world that is just as powerful as a public image. Photographers have long sought out domestic spaces as subjects, and it is the relevance of such images in the context of uncertain times that Soth hones in on with A Room for Solace.

“With this exhibition, I want to take a break from the fractious public square of photography and wander quietly into people’s homes,” the photographer writes in a statement about the exhibition. “Behind these doors I hope to find a sliver of solace in these unstable times.” (Capturing people in their own spaces is something Soth himself does in his new book, I Know How Furiously Your Heart is Beating.) The 40 photographs in A Room for Solace are by some of the greatest names in photography: Diane Arbus, Sally Mann, Dorothea Lange, Robert Mapplethorpe, Joel Meyerowitz and Bruce Davidson are among the featured image-makers.

“How should the photography world respond to the times in which we live?” asks Soth, and makes a case for the importance of the quiet domestic scene by citing a Walker Evans photograph. “I’m reminded of Henri-Cartier-Bresson’s criticism of photographers like Edward Weston and Ansel Adams in the early 1950s: ‘Now, in this moment, this crisis, with the world maybe going to pieces – to photograph a landscape!’ The same could be said, of course, of photographs of domestic interiors. When the world is burning, what’s the point of photographing a fireplace? But then I turn to Walker Evans’ picture of a fireplace in Alabama. When Evans made this photo in 1936, I’m sure it felt like the world was going to pieces as much as it did for Cartier-Bresson in the 1950s. But looking at it now in his book Message From the Interior (1966), instead of despair I feel something closer to its opposite.”

Away from the grandeur and epic storytelling that photography so often invites, the portraits, still-lifes and documentary images that make up the exhibition focus on more intimate characters and settings: a kitchen sink full of dishes waiting to be washed, a young girl jumping on her bed, or a stark doorway in the corner of a room. Rather than mounted on walls, the photographs will be displayed on shelves (this idea also stems from a Walker Evans trope of shooting trinkets on mantelpieces), leaning next to one another. In what could become a frantic few days of endless photography, A Room for Solace will prove to be just that.

The Photography Show presented by AIPAD is on in New York from April 4 – 9, 2019.