See the Light—Photography, Perception, Cognition: The Marjorie and Leonard Vernon Collection
Los Angeles residents Marjorie and Leonard Vernon began to collect photography in 1975, eventually building a collection of some 3,600 photographs spanning the entire history of the medium. In 2008 LACMA acquired the complete collection, making it possible for the museum to represent photography’s full range and its centrality in modern visual culture. This exhibition of 220 photographs from the Vernon Collection takes a historical perspective, identifying parallels between photography and vision science over time. The earliest commentaries on photography, published at the moment of its invention in the late 1830s, positioned the medium between art and science. As a scientific instrument, the camera operates as an infallible eye, augmenting physiological vision; as an artistic tool, it channels the imagination, recording creative vision. Much of photography’s authority and fascination resides in its interdisciplinary grounding. Whether we analyze it as a science or admire it as an art, photography’s power may never be fully explained, but it will always offer revelations about vision, perception, and cognition.
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This exhibition was organized by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and made possible by a generous gift from Fredric Roberts, with additional support from the Annenberg Foundation.
Image: György Kepes, Balance, 1942, Gelatin Silver Print, The Marjorie and Leonard Vernon Collection, gift of The Annenberg Foundation, acquired from Carol Vernon and Robert Turbin, © The György Kepes Estate.
One of the first things I noticed upon entering the exhibition See the Light—Photography, Perception, Cognition: The Marjorie and Leonard Vernon Collection is the numerous quadrants of photographs arranged on the first wall. The four photographs in each grouping represent the four themes covered in the exhibition: descriptive naturalism, subjective naturalism, experimental modernism, and romantic modernism…
I came to this project without preexisting personal and professional links to the Vernons, so, for me, this really was a history. It was, from the start, something I could think about in historical terms. This distance afforded me certain advantages, in the sense that I could approach the material objectively, but it also meant that I wasn’t always attuned to some of the personal histories that bound the Vernons to the Los Angeles photo world…