A Place for the Eye to Rest
The eye sees what it has been
given to see by concrete circumstances,
and the imagination reproduces what,
by some related gift, it is able to make live.
What does it mean to make a photograph now? It is surely not the same labor as it was for photography’s earliest camera artists who worked and experimented tirelessly just to capture and fix an image on paper. The variables of time, ambient temperature, weather conditions and light were critical for any success. Today the ease and accessibility in which it is possible to make a photograph has created such a saturation of images that discerning a good picture from the torrent of images seems impossible. There is too much visual noise, no room for the eye to rest. Furthermore, disseminating these images especially online is too easy. Once a photograph makes its way to the Internet it is often given too much attention and deemed more significant that it is. It must be said that everyone who wields a camera or snaps a selfie, is not necessarily a photographer. As Miss O’Connor reminds us, the imagination must give life to what we see in front of us and not everyone has that gift. So how do we begin to sort the wheat from the chaff?
Fraction Magazine was born in 2008. Collaborators David Bram and Joshua Spees launched the first issue in May with the portfolios of four artists. (Spees left the partnership in 2009). Bram has been the editor-in-chief for seven years and has published seventy-two issues and presented the work of over 300 artists from the United States and across the globe. He takes his charge seriously and travels extensively to seek out, assist and publish artists who often work in relative obscurity without the usual gallery representation or critical guidance to further their practice. With a keen and perceptive sense of what makes a good picture, each month Bram presents a handful of engaging and original portfolios by young and/or emerging artists whose work in almost all instances has never been published or seen online. And he does this one image at a time.
Fraction’s austere, minimal format sets it apart from its competitors. This aesthetic intentionally emphasizes and privileges the pictures—the point of the magazine in the first place—over the sponsors, a design constant since Fraction’s inception. It is also what makes viewing each issue such a pleasure. The images are large, presented one at a time and free from corporate ads, pop-ups and other background distractions. This virtual viewing is a different kind of experience than seeing photographs on gallery walls; it becomes an exercise in a deeper, contemplative kind of looking and provides an opportunity for the eye to rest and to take in a single picture, a single moment, a single idea. Many images in an artist’s sequence hold their own as strong individual pictures; others depend on the unfolding narrative of the larger portfolio to find their place. Nevertheless, Bram’s consistently thoughtful selection of work spans a range of distinctive images and provocative ideas.
Bram also recognizes that contemporary photography does not exist in a void. Though he curates each issue himself, he has recently opened up Fraction to other professional voices. In addition to the regular portfolios he selects, he has invited curators and editors to organize exhibitions from Fraction’s extensive archive, which brings in fresh perspectives. These projects are included in each issue along with the regular book and exhibition reviews. In addition to contemporary images, Bram has featured work by a number of established and renowned photographers—Robert Adams, Thomas Barrow, Betty Hahn, Edward Ranney, Judith Joy Ross, Joel-Peter Witkin—to name just a few. This nod to both photography’s history and canon provides balance to the very au courant nature of publishing visual work online, as it also introduces many young and/or foreign photographers to some of the discipline’s significant artists and iconic images.
The magazine has become a success story. With the Fraction Editions and the Acquisitions Fund, Bram has shared the success of his labors and given back to both the artists he supports and to the greater community. The Editions program allows interested individuals to acquire original work directly from an artist and to build personal collections for a modest investment. On a larger scale, the Acquisitions Fund benefits institutions that otherwise would not be able to acquire contemporary photography because of its typically high cost (2). Such partnerships with museums, especially small university museums, are vital because faculty and students often use these collections for teaching and contemporary work is usually difficult to come by.
It is a promising sign that Fraction has flourished, given how quickly technology evolves and how fickle our tastes and attitudes are. With David Bram at the helm, it seems safe to assume that Fraction will have a long life and evolve as well, bringing us not just what the eye sees, but more importantly, what the imagination “is able to make live.”
Michele M. Penhall
Albuquerque, New Mexico
Michele M. Penhall served as the Curator of Prints and Photographs at the University of New Mexico Art Museum from 2004 to 2014. Penhall’s Stories from the Camera, Reflections on the Photograph, an edited volume of essays and photographs about the UNM Art Museum’s photography collection, will be published by UNM Press in 2015. Currently, she is an independent writer and curator.
1. Quoted in Lewis Hyde, The Gift: Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World, New York: Vintage Books, A division of Random House, 2007, p.194.
2. In 2014 in my capacity as the Curator of Prints and Photographs at the University of New Mexico Art Museum, I worked with David Bram and was able to acquire eleven works for the collection through the Fraction Acquisitions Fund. This kind of gift is very important to a teaching collection such as the one at UNM which has always, and continues to be, integral to teaching the history and studio practice of photography.