Something in the Way: A Brief History of Photography and Obstruction

Based on NOMA’s permanent collection, Something in the Way: A Brief History of Photography and Obstruction explores photography’s relationship to the world it records through a diverse selection of photographs that include obstructing elements or remind us that the photograph itself is often an obstruction to the real world.

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André Kertész, “Paris 1929 (Broken Plate).” Courtesy of New Orleans Museum of Art/Museum Purchase through the National Endowment for the Arts Grant

Since the earliest days of photography, photographers have had a contentious relationship with the real world. Unlike other forms of picture making, in which the author has total control over each element in the picture, every photograph is a negotiation between what exists in front of the camera and what the photographer is willing to include. Some photographers have employed methods to eliminate distracting parts of the picture—masking out sections of the negative, manipulating the print, etc.—but others have chosen to accept everything within the frame, even when certain elements in the picture obstruct others. Still others, especially in the twentieth century, intentionally sought out obstructions, framing the world with bold occlusions that prevent us from seeing part of it. Sometimes playful, sometimes staunchly conceptual, these photographs draw attention to photography’s dual dependence on the real world and on the photographer, who determines how much of that world we get to see. Even more recently, photographers have begun exploring how the photograph, or even the act of photographing, is itself an obstruction to the real world. This exhibition brings together fine art and documentary photographs, anonymous snapshots, and conceptual works, to explore these various relationships between photography and obstruction.

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Tseng Kwong Chi, “New York, New York,” 1979. Courtesy of New Orleans Museum of Art/Gift of Steven Maklansky

Featured image credits: Brett Weston, “Building Façade through Barbed Wire,” 1968. Courtesy of New Orleans Museum of Art/Gift of Mrs. P. Roussel Norman

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