Photography Is Magic: Aperture’s Exhibition Plays on the Mystique of the Medium

This open-submission show likens the camera to a magic wand

© Bubi Canal
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Beautiful Mystery, 2015© Bubi Canal

Each year, Aperture hosts a Summer Open, an open-submission exhibition focusing on a central theme that changes annually. For the summer of 2016, the theme was Photography is Magic, named after Charlotte Cotton's book of the same title, published by Aperture in 2015.

© Jennifer Niederhauser Schlup
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Blank III, 2013© Jennifer Niederhauser Schlup

"Photography is Magic is an intentionally optimistic statement about the current state of contemporary photographic practice," Cotton tells American Photo. "The project is my attempt to look at an exciting direction that artists are driving."

© Jessica Labatte
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Spotting #18 (Amy, Jessica), 2015© Jessica Labatte

Cotton curated the exhibit, sorting through nearly 600 submissions in order to handpick works that exemplify her vision. “I was looking for works where I either knew or sensed the photographer was on a roll—totally on top of their project and clearly focused on the visual and magical experience they are providing to the viewer,” she says.

© Jessica Thalmann
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Computer Engineer Working in Lab B10, 2015© Jessica Thalmann

The works are playful, imaginative and adventurous, playing with the concept of photography whether through subject matter or technique. While the works vary aesthetically, they cohesively embody a lighthearted and experimental view on photography.

© Junsheng Zhou
Representation of a refused negative film, 2014© Junsheng Zhou

“There are definitely groupings or constellations of works on each wall,” Cotton says of the exhibition’s arrangement. “I was putting together sequences where I felt there was an albeit oblique connection and visual conversation between artists’ practices.”

Digital Clouds, 2015
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Digital Clouds, 2015Digital Clouds, 2015

The works, while whimsical, do demand a certain level of concentration to discern what is really happening within the scene. This illusory effect then gives the viewer a very similar experience to watching a magician perform, and attempting to decode each trick.

© Matthew Herrmann
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Analog Upsample #2, 2016© Matthew Herrmann

“It’s the kind of exhibition that narrates a critical mass of contemporary practice,” says Cotton. “I hope it creates a joyful meditation on some of what I consider to be the most impactful trains of thought and ways of working that artists are activating today.”

© Patricia Voulgaris
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Untitled, 2015© Patricia Voulgaris
© William Miller
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Muybridge Motion Study Motion Study #12, 2016© William Miller
© Adam Ekberg
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Eclipse, 2012© Adam Ekberg