After the advent of digitalization, recent years have seen increasing numbers of contemporary artists turn to the traditional photographic techniques first pioneered in the nineteenth century. Artists are revisiting, reinterpreting, and combining artisanal processes, some of which are highly complex, and turning their hand to Polaroids, film strips, cyanotypes, photograms, calotypes, Woodburytypes, and photogravure. They are developing new artistic works that stand in exciting contrast to today’s visual world, which has been stripped of materiality and vastly accelerated. Digital images – shot and shared in a matter of seconds, made up of pixels with endless possibilities for alteration by any number of editing techniques – stand in contrast to unique, laboriously handcrafted pieces whose ability to captivate us is a direct result of their materiality and authenticity. The many experimental production techniques make these artistic works at once traditional and entirely of the moment, playfully calling into question and broadening the boundaries of photography.
The exhibition Back to the Future . The 19th century in the 21st century at C/O Berlin features a selection of outstanding artworks from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, drawn from both public and private collections. For the first time, historical works are paired with contemporary pieces. The exhibition was researched, developed, and curated in close partnership with the Fotografiemuseum Amsterdam (Foam). The themes of materiality, temporality, reflection, and the future thus come to shape contemporary artistic production, pointing to characteristics that are inherent to the medium of photography. This makes them the perfect frame for an in-depth exploration of the current state of the photographic medium, providing numerous springboards for thematic discussions with contemporary artists and historians of photography alike.