Light Work is pleased to present Site/Sight, a solo exhibition of work by Ben Altman. Since 2013, Altman has visited many sites, memorials, and museums related to atrocity and genocide. At these places, emblematic of the violent histories that have formed our contemporary world, it is almost automatic for visitors to raise their smart phones and cameras. Through his own photographs Altman explores this contemporary action and its implications. He groups his photographs to suggest connections between the locations. Site/Sight is one of several of Altman’s projects about intractable modern histories.
Tourists at iconic sights almost automatically photograph with their smart-phones and cameras. This act becomes more complicated at memorials, sites, and museums that commemorate episodes of mass violence. Over the past few years I have photographed visitors and their screens at many such places. The people in my images are strangers who are mostly unaware of my intention, even though I use a hand-held 1940’s 4×5 press camera. My vintage equipment fits well with thinking about the present in terms of the past.
Raising a device between oneself and a site of atrocity can be seen as distancing and reductive. However an impulse to manage and diffuse what these places mean is understandable and perhaps necessary. Often the memorials themselves depict the appalling, chaotic events they represent with unwarranted coherence or with the blankness of preserved artifacts. They invite engagement but also obstruct it. The memorials and the photography each suggest questions: how to see these sites; how to empathize with the unknowable experiences of the people who were caught up in the events; how to understand the ways in which past horrors configure our present world; how to live with our knowledge.
— Ben Altman, March 2016
Ben Altman trained as an artist by studying Physics, towing icebergs, racing sailboats, and working as a commercial photographer. After moving to the United States from his native England in the early 1980s he spent twenty-five years in Chicago, and he now lives near Ithaca, NY. Altman has exhibited work recently in New York, NY, Philadelphia, PA, Chicago, IL, Asheville, NC, Fort Wayne, IN, and Syracuse, NY. He was awarded the Houston Center for Photography’s 2015 Fellowship, included in the 2015 Critical Mass Top 50, and runner-up in Soho Photo Gallery’s 2014 National Photography Competition. His project The More That Is Taken Away is fiscally sponsored by Artspire, a program of the New York Foundation for the Arts, and received a Film Finishing Funds grant from the NY State Council on the Arts. In 2014 his Talk Tompkins was awarded an Artist in Community grant from NYSCA. Altman was a resident with 2×2 Collective in 2012 at Sculpture Space, Utica, NY. In addition to photography, Altman works with video, sound, installation, assemblage, and participation. He is represented by Kopeikin Gallery in Los Angeles, CA.