Beyond the World We Know: Abstraction in Photography

The Norton Simon exhibit features fine prints by some of the 20th century’s great photographers.

The Norton Simon is renowned for its expansive art collections, and its new exhibit Beyond the World We Know: Abstraction in Photography (Nov. 22-April 6, 2020) maintains that reputation. The exhibition offers visitors a unique, intimate experience featuring works by some of the 20th century’s most acclaimed photographers, including Barbara Morgan, Frederick Sommer, Arthur Siegel, Minor White, and Edward Weston.

“Photography is often thought of as a ‘truth’ event: the depiction of a person or an event. [Even] posts on social media or for commemorative purposes are examples,” explains Gloria Williams Sander, curator of the exhibition. In her selection, she looked to photo artists who used the tools of their medium—not just the camera, but also enlargers and the darkroom and its accoutrements—to tilt viewers’ expectations of what photography can do. “All of the artists in the exhibit were born before the mid-20th century, so their work is far in advance of digital editing programs,” Sander says.


Beyond the World We Know provides an opportunity to look at the more expressive possibilities of photography and the ways in which elements such as light, shadow, pattern, and point of view can be manipulated. “I hope visitors will take away an appreciation for the unique photography produced through the chemical mysteries of the darkroom,” Sander says, “and for the creativity of the artists who employed strategies, from extreme close-up and cropping to solarization and light drawing, and even to creating photographs without the camera.”

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