The International Center of Photography debuts sprawling new home for images

The International Center of Photography debuts sprawling new home for images

As a steady drizzle fell over New York City on Saturday, the International Center of Photography threw open its doors to visitors, marking the re-launch of the esteemed photography museum.

Now located at 79 Essex Street in Lower Manhattan, the newly unveiled building fulfills what Mark Lubell, executive director of ICP, described as a 20-year-goal: to unite the organization’s museum and school. In doing so, the space, equipped with galleries, classrooms, labs, darkrooms and shooting studios, creates the cultural hub outlined by Lubell when the museum announced that it would close its Midtown location in January of 2015.

For its debut, the museum is presenting four shows, each with a distinct focus that expands on notions of the photographic image and power. The inaugural exhibitions will be on view at the museum through May 18.

Filling the gallery’s open space on the second floor are the shows “Tyler Mitchell: I Can Make You Feel Good” — the first U.S. solo exhibition of the fashion photographer’s work — and “CONTACT HIGH: A Visual History of Hip-Hop.” Bubbling with pastel hues and images that work toward a “Black utopia,” Mitchell’s exhibition is full of quiet moments that remind the viewer of the intimacy of human interaction. Both the atmospheric layout of the installation and the formal qualities of the photographs help to convey what ICP curator-at-large Isolde Brielmaier described as Mitchell’s “ebullient declaration of joy.”

Photo: Tyler Mitchell.
Photo: Tyler Mitchell.

The installation begins with a tri-sided video piece, followed by a room of portraits that is punctuated on the other side by a video that plays on the ceiling of a room lined with pillows and AstroTurf. Leading to the rest of the gallery space, an interactive laundry-line full of portraits printed on fabric forms the final component of “I Can Make You Feel Good.” Here, viewers are encouraged to duck, weave and roam through the soft pieces.

Meanwhile, providing a bit of contrast, “CONTACT HIGH” presents a dizzying array of portraits and contact sheets that relay the immensity of hip-hop history. Flowing from one to the other, the installations hint at the possibilities within the museum space to foster multiple visual conversations without detracting from either. With over 40 photographers in the show, the work spans the 1970s to today and includes images of, among others, Beyoncé, Jay-Z, Erykah Badu, Lauryn Hill and Fab 5 Freddy, who served as creative director.

Barron Claiborne, Biggie Smalls, King of New York, Wall Street, New York, 1997.
Barron Claiborne, Biggie Smalls, King of New York, Wall Street, New York, 1997.

Overlooking “CONTACT HIGH” from the third floor catwalk, an exhibition titled “The Lower East Side: Selections from the ICP Collection” pulls work from the organization’s holdings to contend with role of photography in the narrative of the lower Manhattan. Starting with tenement images from social journalist and photographer Jacob Riis and ending with a collection of Photo League works, the exhibition winds around to tell the history of the neighborhood through stories that come from outside and within the community.

At a preview, ICP director of exhibitions and collections Erin Barnett described the museum’s aim to continue to incorporate images from residents of the neighborhood. “We’re really interested in looking at the visual histories of the Lower East Side,” Barnett said. “And we hope to continue to collect more images now that we’re here from local photographers so we can have a fuller story of the neighborhood.”

Weegee. "Norma Devine Is Sammy's Mae West," 1944.
Weegee. “Norma Devine Is Sammy’s Mae West,” 1944.

The final exhibition of the museum’s opening offering is a series of scenes drawn from the 1979 cult classic film “The Warriors.” Titled “James Coupe: Warriors,” the installation prompts viewers to contend with ideas of security through a clever use of deep fake technology that swaps the faces of gallery attendees who have given away with their permission via various photo-taking stations) with characters in the movie. In her introduction to Coupe’s work, Barnett said the power of the installation is that it calls attention to the notion that “deep fakes can create new narratives, but we should be careful and question the nuances of the narratives that are created.”

All four exhibitions run through May 18. More information can be found here.

Top Image: Photo: Tyler Mitchell.