Photography’s remarkable ability to represent the past in the present is frequently invoked as one of the medium’s essential characteristics. Yet, as many contemporary photographers acknowledge, its relationship to the past is by no means straightforward. Organized thematically, the exhibition The Memory of Time: Contemporary Photographs at the National Gallery of Art explores the work of contemporary artists who investigate the richness and complexity of photography’s relationship to time, memory, and history.
From a shared fascination with photography’s past, including early photographic techniques, to creating works which give form to the literal passage of time and the fleeting evidence of cultural change, many contemporary artists are creating works that evocatively engage with how the past has been shaped by photography. The medium has been instrumental in both preserving and creating memory from its inception, and its ability to record the existence of ruins in contemporary society strikingly calls into question what is remembered or forgotten by history. This exhibition and catalog will examine how photographs not only evoke memories of place through the unfolding of different moments of time but also create powerful visual histories of our relationship with the land.
Curator Sarah Greenough and her colleagues have made a survey of contemporary photographers' engagement with time and memory in which the images cohere to create an illuminating ensemble.
Contemporary art enthusiasts will enjoy and be intrigued by this exploration of the history of photography and how artists find new strategies to produce exquisite images, […] intellectually challenging and quite stunning work touching on vexing issues of identity, place, history, and the public and private uses of the past as they intersect with the present.
— Library Journal, starred review
The works, created between 1990 and today, collectively demonstrate the way the medium has pivoted to adjust to, and comment on, the digital age, when editing images is quite literally as easy as the push of a button.
— Huffington Post
Documents an important collection of elaborate technical and creative achievements.
Sarah Greenough is the chief curator and head of the department of photographs at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC.
Andrea Nelson is assistant curator in the department of photographs at the National Gallery of Art, Washington DC.
Sarah Kennel is an associate curator in the department of photographs at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC.
Diane Waggoner is associate curator in the department of photographs at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC.
Leslie Ureña is curatorial research associate in the department of photographs at the National Gallery of Art, Washington DC.