Fixed Point Perspective
Ottoman Studio Photography and its Contemporary Legacy
Curator: Hrag Vartanian
One of the most important images in 20th-century American art is Arshile Gorky’s Artist and His Mother, a series that brought biography, history, and myth-making into the mainstream of the country’s growing fascination with modern art. When we discuss the series, we focus on the avant-garde style of the painting and drawing. But what about the photography?
We know the painting was based on a photo postcard mailed by the artist’s mother in the Ottoman Empire to his father, who was a migrant laborer in New England. Most critics and historians stop there. Yet the image is part of a larger visual culture the artist was familiar with and understood.
Who was this photographer and what was their influence? Can we identify him, or her?
This curatorial essay investigates the source photograph, examining other modern and contemporary artists who similarly drew from the rich visual culture of Ottoman photography, giving the portraits an afterlife.