The Aperture Foundation’s 2017 Summer Open exhibition, selected from an open call and curated by notable figures in the photography world, focuses on an increasingly complex and endangered theme – freedom. On Freedom is curated by the first artist-run super PAC, For Freedoms, and was organized around Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms: freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom from want, and freedom from fear.
The exhibition aims to highlight the democratic nature of photography, examine its potential contributions to socio-political discourse, and inspire political action. The images on view are presented as either series from individual photographers or groups of images by individual photographers installed in a salon style format. In either case, much of the work challenges viewers to investigate the meaning behind each image. None of the work is an easy read, despite a plethora of straightforward imagery.
A series of images by Jared Thorne that masquerades as urban landscapes, or architectural photography, is actually documentation of Planned Parenthood centers in the state of Ohio. Although only a handful of the images are on view, the full series includes all 26 locations in the state. Visually and metaphorically, the series conveys how embedded this 100-year-old health care institution is in the American cultural landscape. Thorne’s research into the organization also revealed that only a small portion of the services offered by Planned Parenthood are in fact abortions.
Another series, by Debi Cornwall, features six environmental portraits of men with their backs turned to the camera. Two of the six are wearing garments that suggest they are from the Middle East. All six images are set in graphically expansive and stunning indoor or outdoor settings. According to a statement by the photographer, the men are 6 of 780 Muslims who have been imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay, America’s first offshore “War on Terror” prison. Many of the detainees have been held without any charge or trial. The six featured here were cleared and freed, and made their portraits collaboratively with Cornwall. The stance of the subjects in the images reflects a rule regarding photography at Guantanamo Bay–no faces can be shown–while also commenting on the loss of individuality in the face of the “terrorist” stereotype.
A series of environmental portraits featuring a variety of ordinary people comments on something most people can relate to: debt. Accompanying handwritten notes from each sitter briefly detail the why and how much of their debt status, and their journey toward financial freedom.
As a whole, On Freedom offers an unexpected potpourri of commentary on the topic with plenty of wall text and supplemental material to support the images. Viewers will not walk away with a cohesive sense of the true nature of freedom, but rather an overwhelming sense of how it influences every aspect of life from the philosophical to the mundane.
The 2017 Aperture Summer Open: On Freedom is on view through August 17, 2017.