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I went to the opening of this show and returned to it. I liked the idea that Chief Curator Brian Wallis explains that the images will explore the social world through encounters with people unknown to one another. How this encounter is set up and recorded is absolutely fascinating in this show.

Presenting the works of fifty contemporary artists and photographers from around the world, Strangers explores the different roles the camera now plays in negotiating the boundaries between public and private life, trust and fear, intimacy and isolation. Accompanying the first recurring exhibition of its kind devoted to photography and related media at the International Center of Photography in New York, Strangers investigates the social world through images that have been created as a result of encounters with people unknown to one another. In addition to the more personal and psychological aspects of estrangement, the artists in Strangers also engage with the theme of globalization and diaspora, which is especially timely in its geopolitical ramifications. ...

Brian Wallis's essay is the strongest statement of the conceptual underpinnings of the show. His opening quotation, from a recent Stuart Hall essay, conjures the political force of the stranger who challenges democracy by demanding equality simultaneous with a recognition of difference. Wallis goes on to evoke a passage from Frantz Fanon's Black Skin, White Masks in which Fanon, through being objectified, recognizes himself as a stranger. Fanon's self-recognition comes about in such a way that his social role, by definition, must ironically remain temporary and unstable (as he is constantly defined through an objectification that, if continued, would eventually breed familiarity and therefore no longer be strange). Fanon's definition is allied with other classical definitions of "the stranger" that center on the dynamism that the stranger creates through the unease that s/he produces. In the face of globalization, Wallis aligns himself with Zygmunt Bauman, James Clifford and John Tomlinson, claiming that this dynamism has shifted from the individual to the world at large. Ethnography itself, according to Wallis, is now seen as "conditioned by historical circumstances and political motivations."

Wallis connects the artists in this exhibition through a general interest in identity politics; they have all "sought to question issues of identity in relation to cultural encounters with strangers." But Wallis is careful to note that these works address this issue in a very different way than did the static image of cultural difference that dominated art in the 1990s. These new, loosely ethnographic approaches are divided by Wallis into three categories--"postdocumentary," "cultural translation," and "the everyday." Sarah Caylor
Justine Kurland Joel Sternfeld

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