Ransom Center exhibit spotlights recently collected photographs

12:00 a.m. Sunday, March 20, 2016 MyStatesman.com

Among the more than 5 million items in its renowned photo collection, the University of Texas’ Ransom Center claims the world’s first photograph.

Made in 1826 (or 1827 — there is some debate) by Joseph Nicéphore Niépce, the heliograph — which took a full eight hours of exposure to produce — is on permanent display, dramatically enshrined in its own exhibit case.

But jump ahead 190 (or 189) years.

The current exhibit of new acquisitions refreshingly does just that. “Look Inside” unveils nearly 200 photographs the UT archive acquired in the past few years.

Much of what’s been acquired was produced during particularly vibrant periods in the medium’s artistic evolution, such as the American “photo boom” of the 1960s and 1970s when artists pushed the formalities of the medium — an era when photography was elevated to an independent art form in ways it had never been before.

Art photographers distanced themselves from the documentary photographers of previous generations. They experimented with the photo-making process — manipulated images, staged scenarios — and otherwise employed the creative and intellectual strategies artists working in other mediums employed.

“Look Inside” lassos artistic heavyweights like Andy Warhol, Ralph Eugene Meatyard and Lee Friedlander.

But underrecognized women photographers get their due, too. Penelope Umbrico appropriates images from Flickr and Craigslist and transforms them or uses an iPhone to re-photograph iconic images by male photographers. And Betty Hahn is among those who in the 1970s revived historical photographic methods and then boldly combined them with other materials, printing photographs on fabric, for example.

Younger, contemporary talents such as Alec Soth, Alejandro Cartagena and LaToya Ruby Frazier suggest where today’s cutting edge may lie.

For now, that is. Who knows what the next 190 (or 189) years will bring to photography’s creative trajectory.