Perpetual Revolution: The Image And Social Change

The stakes for pictures have never been higher

I think photographers would agree that photos have always changed history and now, while in different mediums, it’s more important than ever.  The International Center of Photography has designating 2017 as “The Year of Social Change.”


That means a 12-month schedule of shows focused on photography’s relationship to society, culture, and politics. The first exhibition, Perpetual Revolution: The Image and Social Change, features Black Lives Matter, gender fluidity, climate change, terrorist propaganda, the refugee crisis, and the alt-right.

All the topics we’re seeing in the news. The NYT welcomes the showcase and says it’s, “Committedly topical as anything the center has done.” And, it looks different than a typical museum show because digital media — smartphone videos, Twitter outtakes, Instagram feeds — outnumber photographic prints.

Here’s the show’s description from their news release. See the show at the ICP Museum in lower Manhattan.

Perpetual Revolution examines the relation between the overwhelming image world that confronts us, and the volatile, provocative, and often-violent world it mirrors.

  • Black Lives (Have Always) Mattered explores the connection between virtual discourse and the physical effects of protest against institutional racism in the U.S. Curated by Kalia Brooks, this section includes images and videos that have helped propel the #BlackLivesMatter movement “from social media to the streets.” It strives to raise critical awareness about collective identification facilitated by the Internet and how that ultimately becomes part of the overarching way in which media depicts the Black body as catalyst for social, cultural, and political change.
  • The Fluidity of Gender Gender explores how digital connectivity is fostering and evolving the representation of the gender-fluid constituencies online. Organized by Carol Squiers, in collaboration with Quito Ziegler, this section explores the queer and trans community’s range of creative, social, and political self-expression—in the form of projected, streamed, and printed photographs, films, and music videos.
  • Climate Changes presents still and moving images from a variety of makers and platforms, raising awareness of the threat of rising global temperatures and helping to sound the alarm bell about both the immediate and long-term consequences. Curated by Cynthia Young, this component of Perpetual Revolution also highlights the intersection of climate change with the other issues explored in the exhibition.
  • ISIS and the Terror of Images delves into the massive effort constructed by ISIS (the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, which is also known as ISIL or Daesh) to produce and distribute highly visual material to appeal to disaffected people around the globe. The section aims to study and demystify the activities of a powerful and violent political machine and its skillful use of propaganda, which blasts endless streams of photographs, videos, and texts across multiple online platforms. Organized by Squiers, in collaboration with Akshay Bhoan, it features photographs and videos, in English, Arabic, and other languages, arranged in thematic streams and displayed on cell phones, iPads, and monitors in the galleries.
  • The Flood: Refugees and Representation looks at how the instantaneous dissemination of images is affecting the global conversation about the European refugee crises. The chronic use of the word “flood” to characterize the mass migration from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, and northern Africa to European countries imbues the event with fear and a sense of loss of control. What message do we get from the images of the crises? Curated by Joanna Lehan, the section explores this question through photographs made by photojournalists and artists as well as those made by refugees themselves.
  • The Right-Wing Fringe and the 2016 Election addresses images circulated by a collection of Internet writers, publishers, and personalities espousing extremist views, who have received increased attention in the past two years—and especially in the months leading up to the 2016 presidential election. Curated by Susan Carlson and Claartje van Dijk, this section looks at images and information circulated by the self-proclaimed “alt-right”—a moniker designed to underscore their break from “establishment” conservatives—and the power imbued upon them via the Internet and social media platforms. Through circulation, these images can be divorced from their larger contexts and their messages are amplified by their repetition, including by top political figures.

Of those topics, Climate Change is most relevant to me, as we visited a melting glacier last month. See more of the photos I took in Iceland on our Instagram.

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