Beyond the Surface: The Photograph as Object

Cal Poly’s University Art Gallery will present "Beyond the Surface: The Photograph as Object", an exhibition curated by Aline Smithson from January 9 - January 31, 2020.

Diana Meyer - Main Street School

The exhibit will open with a talk by Smithson and several of the artists in the exhibition at 4:00p.m. Jan 9, 2020 in the University Art Gallery, located on the ground floor of the Dexter Building (No. 34). A reception will follow from 5:00 - 7p.m. in the gallery.

The University Art Gallery is free and open to the public from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.


Curator's Statement:

As the practice of photography moves farther away from the tactile process of winding film through a camera and long meditative hours spent in the wet darkroom, the contemporary digital photographer is now experiencing an entirely different relationship to the image. With the proliferation of digital capture, with Photoshop replacing the darkroom, and instantaneous digital printing at the push of a button, photographs are now equally a product of the mind and technology, with the ability for limitless reproduction.

In response to this loss of the evidence of the artist’s hand, a number of artists are reconsidering the potential of an image with a move towards making rather than taking photographs. By using vintage and contemporary photographs as a starting point, artists are creating physically layered works of art that result in a handmade one-of-a-kind object, expanding the notion of what we consider photographic art. The exhibition Beyond the Surface features a variety of interventions and investigations that include collage, sewing, cutting, weaving and embroidery, all interrogating the material qualities of the physical photograph as an attempt to recover the magic of the photograph-as-object. As artist Maria Font describes, “My hands intervene with each work manually, and through this intimate, performatic ritual, the embodiment of the photograph becomes the common ground where the familiar and the foreign meet, as an individual attempt to blur the lines between the internal and external spaces of the body. The construction of these mental maps evokes diverse psychological states and emotions with meanings that are in constant flux, never fixed, just like our identities.”

Artists in the exhibition work in two ways, using imagery that they have created in camera or by using found or familial vernacular photos. The image is then punctured, deconstructed, or cut apart and reborn as a work of art, separate from the original image. Many of the artists explore themes of growing up, family, and memory; others use contemporary imagery to consider self or culture. Artist Liz Steketee states, “I use my life and family as material for my work. By doing this, I am able to explore the complexity that exists in the everyday and the richness found in the mundane.  Through the use of montage, collage, and purposeful juxtaposition of photographs, it is my intention to examine the “truth” in life.” Artist Joe Rudko cuts and reorganizes found photographs to “break the illusion of the pristine image and suggest a variety of interpretations it can have. Working with analog methods in a digital era places these snapshots in dialogue with the present moment.”

Revisiting photographs with an Exacto knife or sewing needle provides a new way of examining, organizing, and interacting with more than just the image on the page. This reconsideration opens the door to limitless possibilities of creation, inspiring us to look more deeply at the potential of photographic imagination.

– Aline Smithson


Artists included in this exhibition:

K. K. De Paul (

Marina Font (

Bootsy Holler (

Adrienne Hughes (

Sandra Klein (

Diane Meyer (

Natalie Obermaier (

Joe Rudko (

Christopher Russell (

Liz Steketee (

J.P. Terlizzi (

Adrienne Hughes 04

JP TerlizziMarina Font

Joe Rudko

Natalie Obermaier


About the Curator

Aline Smithson is a visual artist, editor, and educator based in Los Angeles, California. Best known for her conceptual portraiture and a practice that uses humor and pathos to explore the performative potential of photography. Growing up in the shadow of Hollywood, her work is influenced by the elevated unreal.  She received a BA in Art from the University of California at Santa Barbara and was accepted into the College of Creative Studies, studying under artists such as William Wegman, Allen Ruppersburg, and Charles Garabian. After a career as a New York Fashion Editor working alongside some the greats of fashion photography, Aline returned to Los Angeles and her own artistic practice.  

She has exhibited widely including over 40 solo shows at institutions such as the Griffin Museum of Photography, the Fort Collins Museum of Contemporary Art, the Shanghai, Lishui, and Pingyqo Festivals in China, The Rayko Photo Center in San Francisco, the Center of Fine Art Photography in Colorado, the Tagomago Gallery in Barcelona and Paris, and the Verve Gallery in Santa Fe. In addition, her work is held in a number of public collections and her photographs have been featured in numerous publications including The New York Times, The New Yorker, PDN (cover), the PDN Photo Annual, Communication Arts Photo Annual, Eyemazing, Soura, Visura, Shots, Pozytyw, and Silvershotz magazines.  

Aline is the Founder and Editor- in-Chief of Lenscratch, a daily journal on photography, She has been an educator at the Los Angeles Center of Photography since 2001 and her teaching spans the globe. In 2012, Aline received the Rising Star Award through the Griffin Museum of Photography for her contributions to the photographic community. In 2014, Aline’s work was selected for the Critical Mass Top 50 and she received the prestigious Excellence in Teaching Award from CENTER.  

In 2015, the Magenta Foundation published her first significant monograph, Self & Others: Portrait as Autobiography. In 2016, the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum commissioned Aline to a series of portraits for the upcoming Faces of Our Planet Exhibition. In the Fall of 2018 and again in 2019, her work was selected as a finalist in the Taylor Wessing Portrait Prize and exhibited at the National Portrait Gallery in London. In 2019, Kris Graves Projects commissioned her to create a book on Los Angeles that is now sold out. Her books are in the collections of the Getty Museum, the Los Angeles Contemporary Art Museum, the National Portrait Gallery, London, the Metropolitan Museum, the Guggenheim, the Museum of Modern Art, among others. With the exception of her cell phone, she only shoots film.


images: (top to bottom) Diane Meyer, Adrienne Hughes, JP Terlizzi, Marina Font, Joe Rudko, Natalie Obermaier

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