Photography’s remarkable ability to represent the past in the present is frequently invoked as one of the medium’s essential characteristics. Yet, as many contemporary photographers acknowledge, its relationship to the past is by no means straightforward. Organized thematically, the exhibition The Memory of Time: Contemporary Photographs at the National Gallery of Art explores the work of contemporary artistswho investigate the richness and complexity of photography’s relationship to time, memory, and history.
From a shared fascination with photography’s past, including early photographic techniques, to creating works which give form to the literal passage of time and the fleeting evidence of cultural change, many contemporary artists are creating works that evocatively engage with how the past has been shaped by photography. The medium has been instrumental in both preserving and creating memory from its inception, and its ability to record the existence of ruins in contemporary society strikingly calls into question what is remembered or forgotten by history. This exhibition and catalog will examine how photographs not only evoke memories of place through the unfolding of different moments of time but also create powerful visual histories of our relationship with the land.