When Photography Went Punk

A snapshot of the Rudolfinum’s Latest Exhibition

By Emmy Woodthorpe

“Only the Good Ones,” an exhibition at the Rudolfinum that runs through April 6, pays homage to the ‘punk rock’ of photography; the spontaneous, intimate, and sometimes out-of-focus snapshot.

Only The Good Ones: The Snapshot Aesthetic Revisited” features more than 250 works by renowned photographers and artists such as William Eggleston, Nan Goldin, Gus Van Sant, and Andy Warhol.

Photo by Tim Barber

Untitled (Central Park) captures the untamed essence of New York City. Photo by Tim Barber

The inspiration for the title of the exhibition dates back to the ’90’s when the exhibition’s curator, Michal Nanoru, recalled being asked by the clerk at the counter of his local camera store store, “Only the good ones?” The salesman was asking if Nanoru wanted all of the film developed or if he wanted to remove the snaps that were blurry, red-eye-filled, or obscured by the presence of the photographer’s thumb. In an interview with Dazed & Confused, a monthly British style magazine Nanoru said, “I always wondered how the person working at the lab decided which photos were good enough for me and which ones weren’t. This exhibition is essentially a continuation of this. ‘Only the good ones’ are in it, ones selected for the context of the gallery, not by someone at a photo lab.”

There are numerous snapshots in the gallery that would have been tossed aside by most clerks at the photo lab. Yet Nanoru selects these photos as they brought a desire for energy and naturalness to the previously stiff artistic medium of photography. While magazine photos used to be posed, today advertisements for brands like Urban Outfitter or Converse are almost identical to the snapshots seen in the exhibition.

It is the edge and individualism of the snapshot that attracts such companies today; ‘Only the Good Ones’ showcases the beginning of that rebellious movement. Featuring photographs of everything from houseplants to the aftermath of drunken dares and numerous X-rated Polaroids. The exhibit covers the whole history of the snapshot; the first rooms feature black and white images from as early as 1911, while the latter rooms show images from as recent as 2013. However, the bulk of the photographs are taken from a time when processing images was more experimental, before the age of Photoshop and auto-enhanced perfection.

A young Kate Moss in 1990s. Photo by Corrine Day

A young Kate Moss in 1990s. Photo by Corrine Day

“I always wondered how the person working at the lab decided which photos were good enough for me and which ones weren’t. This exhibition is essentially a continuation of this. ‘Only the good ones’ are in it, ones selected for the context of the gallery, not by someone at a photo lab.”

In one image by Corinne Day taken in 1990, a waif thin, almost nude girl splashes around on a beach. Her smiling face is carefree and as she hides her bare chest with a straw hat. The image is of the 16-year-old Kate Moss, but without her supermodel aura and airbrushed face she is almost unrecognizable. The photo not only launched Moss’ career, but also marked a shift in fashion photography away from posed shoots to more natural, spontaneous images. Designers wanted to show that their clothes were not just labels but ways of expressing individuality.

Apart from the image of Moss, is a snapshot of a young Keanu Reeves taken by Gus Van Sant, and a Warhol Polaroid of Arnold Schwarzenegger, the exhibition features only unknown individuals. In one of my favorite photographs of the exhibition, Untitled (Central Park) 2008 by Tim Barber, an anonymous, pink-haired girl stares out across an expansive view of New York City. As a New Yorker I have looked at many pictures of the Manhattan skyline and often seen the view myself. Yet, I always feel that images of the famous skyline don’t quite capture the city’s personality. From far up, only the stunning architecture of the city can be seen appearing polished, expansive, and grand. For me, New York lives in its details. The obscene graffiti in between subways stops, the smell of summer trash fermenting on a street corner, nose rings, and street rats the size of cats. The burnt pink of her hair and her acid wash denim jacket are the small details that add what is missing from a typical portrait of the city. As Tim Barber shows, New York is more than just a ‘stunning’ city, it is a rebellious playground for whoever is daring enough to embrace it.

It then comes as no surprise that Nanoru prepared “Only the Good Ones” while he was living in New York City. The shows rebel vibe is also conveyed by how the works are displayed. While some photos like William Eggleston’s image of a girl holding a camera stretched out on the grass take up a sizable amount of wall space, other photos are small Polaroids nailed to the wall with pins. Observers feel as though they might be looking through a friend’s scrapbook rather than wandering through a well-established gallery.

“Only The Good Ones: The Snapshot Aesthetic Revisited” transports the observer back to a time when photography went to a medium of expressing oneself artistically.

Galerie Rudolfinum
Alšovo nábřeží 12
110 01 Prague 1
T: +420 227 059 205

Tue–Wed, Fri–Sun:
10am–6pm
Thursday: 10am–8pm
Monday closed

Emmy Woodthorpe is in the NYU College of Arts and Sciences Class of 2016. Her hometown is Rye, New York.

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Categories: Spring 2014 Issue Number 1

Author:The Prague Wandering

The Prague Wandering is an NYU based study abroad webzine- the only one of its kind. It focuses on issues in contemporary Czech culture and the city of Prague, exploring beyond the study abroad bubble.

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