In this era of pyrotechnic digital imagery and ubiquitous arm-length photography, the current photography exhibit at the Denver Art Museum—Kenneth Josephson: Encounters with the Universe—may not, at first glance, seem especially exciting. However, the exhibit offers patrons willing to invest a little time and a bit of mental effort something more rewarding than mere visual stimulation.
Although not a household name, Kenneth Josephson was—in the 60’s and 70’s—at the forefront of what academics and photo historians refer to as conceptual photography. Schooled in the art of photography by the legendary Minor White, and heavily influenced by Modernist masters Aaron Siskind and Harry Callahan, Josephson’s most important work focused inward—on photography itself. For example, he conceived of a brilliant way (photographs within photographs) to prompt viewers to be as aware of the act of picture-taking as they are of what had been photographed. Before mouse-click digital replication, Josephson created images like Polapans, 1973. Before trendy arm-length selfies, he conjured images like New York State, 1970.
But unlike a lot of conceptual photography, which tends to be somber, intentionally inartistic, and decodable only by academicians and historians, there is an air of whimsy and lightheartedness to Josephson’s work. His photographs can be enjoyed by anyone, for their visual interest alone, whether or not the deeper, conceptual aspect is wholly appreciated. So it is with photographs like the sublimely beautiful apparition of a tree in winter (Chicago, 1959), or the puzzle that is a car with an apparently reversed shadow (Stockholm, 1967).
Encounters with the Universe provides evidence, at least to anyone not so inured to the charm of photography by over-saturation that he can no longer marvel at true creativity, that the greatest gifts that a visual artist has to offer are interesting ideas behind interesting images.
Kenneth Josephson: Encounters with the Universe is on view at the Denver Art Museum through May 8, 2016.