This month, Lisa Hostetler, PhD, joined the Eastman House staff as Curator-in-Charge of the Department of Photography. This is Part II of a recent conversation with Hostetler about the current state of photography, her interests in the medium, and her plans for working with the Eastman House collection. Click here to read Part 1!
GEH: Which artists’ or era’s photography have been most formative in the way you approach (or consider) the medium?
LH: I’ve always been particularly intrigued by street photography of the 1940s and ’50s. I wrote my dissertation on Louis Faurer, and the exhibition and book Street Seen: The Psychological Gesture in American Photography, 1940–1959 grew out of my research on that project.
Street Seen focused on the work of six artists—Faurer, Lisette Model, Saul Leiter, Ted Croner, William Klein, and Robert Frank—whose work conveyed the subjective edge that sliced through American art during the war and immediate postwar years. The raw power of their images is unforgettable, and the unique combination of brashness and vulnerability that characterized the best postwar street photography spoke volumes about the anxieties and aspirations that pervaded society during that period. The way that those photographers’ work conveyed a personal vision of the world while collectively suggesting something fundamental about the nature of everyday life in the 1940s and ’50s taught me a lot. It showed me that photography can be a private aesthetic journey and a socially significant activity at the same time, and that paying attention to both aspects of a photographer’s work is a profoundly rewarding way to consider his or her accomplishments.
GEH: What photograph or body of work have you experienced recently that surprised you, and in what way?
LH: Lately, I’ve been noticing that traditional photographic processes seem to be attracting a number of young photographers, who experiment with materials as they explore what is gained and what might be lost in the transition from analog to digital photography. I’m very excited about this work and look forward to seeing how this trend continues to develop.
GEH: To what extent do you see cinema and photography as reciprocal media? How do they influence each other?
LH: I see photography and cinema as related media in that they both have complex relationships to realism and to narrative. My favorite photographers and filmmakers often confound popular assumptions about their medium, especially when those assumptions involve the expectation of documentary truth or linear storytelling. That said, I think the urge to believe what we see in a photograph is practically a part of human nature by now, and the desire for a film to tell a story is equally strong. There is value in satisfying those instincts as well as in questioning them.
Photographers and filmmakers have been influenced by each other throughout history. I look forward to collaborating with my colleagues in the motion picture department to explore those connections and tease out their broader significance.
GEH: What aspects of the George Eastman House collections are you most looking forward to bringing to the public?
LH: At this point, I’m still looking forward to learning what all is in the collection! With over 400,000 objects, I have a lot of looking to do and many plans to make. I can’t wait to share what I find with the public. Also, I will be working with museum staff to make our entire photography collection searchable online, so that people can make their own discoveries as well.
Rachel Pikus is the Manager of Online Engagement at George Eastman House International Museum of Photography and Film.