Does Intention Really Matter?

Feedback Loop Null © 2012 Matthew Papa

I think about this question a lot but it has been on my mind lately in response to a flurry of activity on tumblr with one of my images. Posted here, it was one of the first images I made in a series in which I explore the tensions between intimacy and desire in my long term relationship with my lover. I worked on the series for almost two years and naturally my ideas evolved as I worked on it.

When I made this image, however, I was thinking about a disconnect in our erotic life that seemed to come from too much familiarity. I took many other pictures that day but I selected this one to be included because it best represented what I was feeling and trying to express. Turned away from the camera, my naked figure alone in a bedroom felt emotionally laden. It hinted at some distance or separation and an unwillingness to engage.

This is by far the most popular image on my tumblr and recently it has been re-blogged a lot. What has been interesting for me is that the majority of re-blogs are on other tumblrs that are primarily gay porn. When I first started noticing this, it would crack me up seeing my image sandwiched between gifs of writhing, pounding bodies. (If you want the visual you can click here to see one screen grab which, unfortunately, does not preserve the animation for the gifs. Don’t forget to click on it to see it in full detail! Definitely NSFW.)

Ultimately it got me thinking about artistic intention and the persistent questions around its relevance or irrelevance. I’m not insulted or bothered that my image is being read this way; I just didn’t get it. What this elucidates for me in a concrete way is the viewer’s power in making meaning of a particular image and how those meanings can be multiple. As an image maker, I find this to be liberating. I think the notion of intention as a singular path from point A to point B is a trap and ultimately limiting for the artist. It also doesn’t give full color to the nuance or complexity of the creative process.

This is obviously a rich topic that can’t be fully covered in a blog post but I will leave off with this tidbit I came across in my web meanderings on intention…

Duchamp’s “art coefficient” dictates that the art becomes less interesting in direct proportion to the degree the artist’s intent is achieved.

Food for thought, or maybe better yet, a reason to play.

Theresa Ortolani, PDN Winner


Incoming ICP-Bard MFA student, Theresa Ortolani, was chosen as a 2014 pdn FACES Portrait Photography Competition winner. This is the seventh time Ortolani’s imagery has been selected as winner of a pdn competition. Previous works have been included in pdn’s Environmental Portraiture, Sports, Documentary and Book competition categories, and have twice appeared in the pdn Annual. The complete group of 2014 pdn FACES images can be seen in the current print issue of pdn, and online, in the Winner’s Gallery.

A more explicit variation of Ortolani’s image will be included in her forthcoming monograph BOUND: The Corporeal Pleasure. The artist’s first monograph, Endurance, was published with powerHouse Books in 2010.
Ortolani is honored to be an incoming ICP-Bard MFA 2016 candidate. She received her BFA in sculpture from The School of Visual Arts at Boston University’s College of Fine Arts.

MFA Alum Aline Shkurovich Bialik Appears on NY1 discussing Urbes Mutantes

After hosting several Alumni walkthroughs and assisting ICP’s curatorial staff on the exhibition Urbes Mutantes Aline was interviewed by the media about the show and its importance. Here’s a link to the interview:–fotograf%C3%ADa-de-am%C3%A9rica-latina-1944-2013-se-exhibe-en-ny

Deirdre Donohue’s Photobookcases


“The first couple of vertical rows are essays and theory and criticism, the next two are works on art movements and collections, then there are monographs generally by artist’s last name, but not exact because the shelves are varying heights, so they dance around alpha order a bit. After that, are books on photo books and other publications, and then cinema and, finally, a section on New York books [with a growing Harlem section]. Not everything fits in the living room shelves… Bookmaking, Japan, textiles and needlework are in my studio; cookbooks and philosophy in the kitchen; and Czech and Slovak art and history, literature, artist books, enigmatic books [mainly thrift store finds], and DVDs are in the bedroom. Cinema and New York will be moving out of the living room soon, as I need more shelf space!”

Read AI-AP’s full Q&A with Deirdre Donohue here



Maurice Berger writes for the New York Times Lens Blog on recent ICP-Bard MFA alumnus Kim Weston‘s work:

“…Seen, Unseen, Ms. Weston’s contribution to her class’s thesis group show, focuses on her mother’s family in Cheraw, S.C. The artist, who is part African-American, Native American and Irish, initially found the process of photographing her relatives daunting. “I was afraid of violating their privacy. I didn’t want to be seen as exploiting them.”

Though she completed the series in relative secrecy — she told no one at school about it — she ultimately embraced it as a celebration of “the people who made me who I am'”

Read the full article here.

Another history – A great week to go to the MOMA

Not only for photographers, this is a nice week to go to the MOMA as they have a some very interesting shows on display at the moment, as there is a lot of interesting work on display that allows to think about influence and underlying aspects in history in space and in language. And I strongly recommend to make a visit and look specially into the following three shows:

Alibis: Sigmar Polke 1963–2010″ // April 19–August 3

“A World of Its Own: Photographic Practices in the Studio”// February 8–October 5

“Designing Modern Women 1890–1990″ //October 5, 2013–September 21


Here is why:

In “The Archeology of Knowledge” (published 1969) Michel Foucault requests to rewrite history and to include the everyday and the stories of the random and ordinary people into our archives of knowledge and cultural or national history.

The work of the German artist Sigmar Polke (who died in 2010) shows and interacts with this this kind of social-cultural specific everyday-ness and visualizes and works with the living circumstances and the media, the newspaper articles and the proverbs and street language of post war Germany.

The thoughtful curation of Polke`s work in this retrospective visualizes another part and history of the social cultural atmosphere and the social landscape of post war Germany. Polke’s work often comments or transforms the given material and gives an insight into what people were talking and thinking about in their homes and on the streets – and it uncovers how much certain specifics and habits of German culture are mirrored in the media and in street posters, signs, and daily newspapers and their advertisements and articles.

The show at the MOMA gives a sensitive insight to aspects of a habitual Germaness that is underlying in the culture and becomes more visible in Polke´s work. The curation shows how Polke’s work talks to those kinds of things that are some how there but unpronounceable about a country or culture – as all spoken or written words and explanations about those things could only maneuver into the dangers of being seen as stereotypes.

But here the underlying an the unpronounceable become a part of the art work and curation, which remembers me, that the work Unpronounceable (“unaussprechlich”) itself is a meaningful term in Germany with important meaning and reference to the German culture and history.

Even though the colors and free use of material might in Polke’s work might not be to everybody’s favor – his work and vocabulary is full of truthfulness and sensitive awareness of influence and nationalism inside of a culture.

The work of Polke is looking on that what is underlying and unpronounceable and visualizes and looks critical at the superficialness and boundaries of newspaper articles and their practice, his works talk with awareness and sensitivity about the leftovers of fascism and obedience to authority in the German language and history, and in the everyday.

But they although show and visualizes the atmosphere of hope and enthusiasm, the willingness to work on change and transformation and shows the beauty and meaning of certain infrastructures and characteristics such as the living close to nature and the self expression in alternative life styles in the German culture by using the everyday stories and materials of the culture. It is very interesting to see what kind of materialities mediums and vocabulary Polke uses to visualize this ideas of hidden things inside of a culture.


Staying with Foucault’s idea of reframing history and uncovering other kinds and parts of the history of a culture although the curation of some photographers photo studio produced images  “A World of Its Own: Photographic Practices in the Studio” is worth a look.

The exhibition shows some very interesting photographs and studio works such as Fischli and Weiss “The way things go”, and it might make you think not only about the singular photographs but although a little more about photographic studio practice in general and think about what kind of things and subjects belong to the studio practice of photographers and what their dynamics are in different times and cultures.

It makes questioning if there are parallels in the subjects and work and where they came from. What were and are the subjects and motivations of the photographers? What were their interests and where they similar to other photographers motivations and interests at different times? One can think about the state of photography at different times in our history and ask what kinds of texts and ideas were circulating at the different times and now and what was and is the cultural atmosphere and influences at now and at the different times.


The third show I like to recommend to look at is ”the Designing Modern Women 1890–1990”, – not that the show itself is arranged as thoughtful as the two other shows, or one could ask which women designers are displayed in the museum with which message and which women designers or artists are not presented in the museum and why is that so… but the model of the small kitchen that by Charlotte Perriand designed with Le Corbusier (1952) from the Unité d’Habitation housing project is– even though its presented shamefully pressed very distantly from the viewer in to a corner inside of the show –  a wonderful in addition to the ideas of Foucault and the Polke Show,  and to think about how we inhabit space and how the space we inhabit forms and structures ourselves and our culture, the human psychology and social interactions we have and can have with each other inside of home and space. What does this kitchen say about the sate of the meaning of home and family or about thus of the working class  and conditions or about about individuality and which hints and information may it be giving about power structures as well as about enthusiasm and to the the underlying and to the unpronounceable? (