MoMA Celebrates Photographers Experimenting in the Studio

Man Ray
Man Ray—Courtesy The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Laboratory of the Future, 1935

In January 2013, Quentin Bajac assumed the role of chief curator of photography at the Museum of Modern Art in New York following a 17-year tenure as curator at the Musée d’Orsay and the Centre Pompidou in Paris. He is the first non-American to hold what is widely considered one of the most influential positions in the photography world, succeeding just four others in the museum’s 83-year history — Peter Galassi, John Szarkowski, Edward Steichen and Beaumont Newhall. Here, he writes for LightBox about some of the motivation behind his inaugural exhibition at MoMA, opening February 8, 2014.


“It is possible for photographers to make or design objects that can be treated with light, thereby creating a world of their own which is in many ways as interesting as the visible, external world.” — Photographer Francis Bruguiere in 1935

Bringing together photographs, film, and videos, A World of Its Own: Photographic Practices in the Studio examines the ways in which photographers and other artists using photography have worked and experimented within the studio space, from photography’s inception to today. In this digital age in which a younger generation of photographers is going back to the studio, I felt it was important to acknowledge the role played by this space in photography’s history.

Featuring both new acquisitions and works from the museum’s collection that have not been on view in recent years, the exhibition includes more than 150 images from the 19th century to the present. I wanted to bypass the traditional categories associated with studio photography (portrait, advertisement, fashion, nude, etc.) and instead consider, in six different sections, the photographer’s studio as an autonomous space, in all its diversity and, sometimes, contradictions.

From a working space to a living space, from a sanctuary to a workshop, from a laboratory to a playground, from a haven to a stage, the studio has taken on varying identities that, for more than a century, photographers have recorded in strikingly creative ways. A World of Its Own attempts to offer another history of photography — a photography created within the walls of the studio, as groundbreaking and inventive as its seemingly more extroverted counterpart, street photography.


Quentin Bajac is the chief curator of photography at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. A World of Its Own: Photographic Practices in the Studio, is on view February 8 – October 5, 2014.


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