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Artist Penelope Umbrico finds photographic inspiration in the digital age

By Kathleen Telling

New York-based artist Penelope Umbrico’s photographic works explore the relationships between modern technology and professional photography, the widespread availability and consumption of internet images. She is know for re-purposing images from catalogs and website like Flickr to reflect the fluidity and mutability of photography in the digital age. Umbrico has received high praise for her works and is the recipient of several accolades, including a John Gutmann Photography Fellowship (2012), Guggenheim Fellowship (2011), and the Anonymous Was a Woman award (2009), among many others.

 

Penelope Umbrico. Image from Art Discover http://www.artdiscover.com/
Penelope Umbrico. Image from Art Discover http://www.artdiscover.com/

Umbrico visits the Ransom Center on Thursday, February 18 at 7 p.m. to discuss the role of internet images and photo-sharing in her work as she delineates her own role as a producer and consumer of images. In anticipation of her upcoming talk, Umbrico shared with Cultural Compass her thoughts about image availability, image consumption, and her featured works at the Ransom Center.

 

Do you see a connection between catalog imagery (i.e. commercial images that sell a particular lifestyle) and the development of photo apps (i.e. images that display a carefully crafted social persona)?

Umbrico: Interesting question. It’s difficult to remember when, say, 15 years ago, image production and consumer marketing around lifestyle was exclusively one way—from business to consumer. It’s a more dynamic playing field now that consumers are also producers… they can drive consumer desire, as much as they are driven by it. It’s sometimes hard to parse where actual agency lies in this dynamic.

 

Do you find yourself either anxious, overwhelmed, or exhilarated by the number of images you find throughout your research?

Umbrico: Absolutely exhilarated! The fact that images have become primary in the way we communicate gives me so much rich material to parse. The challenge is how to find what I’m looking for—text, in the form of tags, is actually the conduit that leads to the image in searches, and people are much less nuanced in their tagging than in their images—if a picture tells a thousand words, tags only tell one or two of those words.

 

Look Inside: New Photography Acquisitions features a selection of images from your photography series Range. What initially drew you to mountain ranges as a potential candidate for photographic repurposing?

Umbrico: You’ll have to come to the talk to find that out : )

 

Penelope Umbrico (American, b. 1957), Moving Mountains #108, from the series Range, 2015. Color inkjet print, 8 x 8 in. Harry Ransom Center Collection, purchased with funds provided by the Charles and Elizabeth Prothro Endowment in Photography. Image credit: Penelope Umbrico.
Penelope Umbrico (American, b. 1957), Moving Mountains #108, from the series Range, 2015. Color inkjet print, 8 x 8 in. Harry Ransom Center Collection, purchased with funds provided by the Charles and Elizabeth Prothro Endowment in Photography. Image credit: Penelope Umbrico.

 

 

Selections from Umbrico’s photography series Range can be found in the Ransom Center’s current exhibition Look Inside: New Photography Acquisitions, on view through May 29, 2016. The Ransom Center offers free daily docent-led exhibition tours at noon, with additional tours at 6 p.m. on Thursdays and 2 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays.

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