Exhibition

Don’t! Photography and the Art of Mistakes

July 20–December 1, 2019

Floor 3

Tickets
Entry to this exhibition is included with general admission.
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There’s no success like failure; artists know that better than anyone. Don’t! Photography and the Art of Mistakes explores how photographic techniques such as double exposure, lens flare, and motion blur, deemed errors by one generation of photographers, became interesting aesthetic intentions by the next. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, proscriptive texts by self-proclaimed photography experts proliferated in amateur manuals and periodicals. The next generation saw the rise of photographers who challenged these rules and strictures. Pairing modernist images by artists including Man Ray, Florence Henri, and Lisette Model with historical documents, this exhibition examines the shifting definitions of “good” and “bad” photography, while considering how tastes evolved during this transformative period for the medium. The show concludes with a section of contemporary work by artists including Sara Cwynar, John Gossage, and Andy Mattern that underscores concerns about failure and photographic rules that persist to this day.


Exhibition Preview

Sara Cwynar, Girl from Contact Sheet (Darkroom Manual), 2013, printed 2019; courtesy the artist and Cooper Cole Gallery Inc.; © Sara Cwynar
Charles M. Taylor, Jr., Why My Photographs Are Bad. Philadelphia, PA: G.W. Jacobs & Co., 1902.
Lisette Model, Promenade des Anglais, Nice, 1937; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Fund of the ’80s purchase; © Lisette Model Foundation
Ilse Bing, My Shadow with Dog “Schubi,” 1948; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, bequest of Ilse Bing Wolff; © Estate of Ilse Bing
Andy Mattern, Average Subject / Medium Distance #4200 (Correct), 2018; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Accessions Committee Fund purchase; © Andy Mattern
Ralph Eugene Meatyard, Untitled (476 B-60), ca. 1958; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, gift of Van Deren Coke; © The Estate of Ralph Eugene Meatyard
John Gossage, Hyattsville, Maryland, from the series A Dozen Failures, 2016; courtesy the artist; © John Gossage

Header image: Sara Cwynar, Girl from Contact Sheet (Darkroom Manual), 2013 (detail), printed 2019; courtesy the artist and Cooper Cole Gallery Inc.; © Sara Cwynar