A close-up photo of a camera lens.

Image: Shutterstock

“Public, Private, Secret” is the first exhibition at the newly re-opened International Center of Photography, which has finally found a new home on the Bowery after losing its place in Midtown. The new exhibition, a massive aggregate of every kind of photography from selfies to food Instagrams to war photos, is about photography’s role today, when social media lets us record and share every thought and moment with both images and text.

The galleries feature strata of historical and contemporary works of art by photographers like Andy Warhol and Nan Goldin interleaved with streams of real-time photo and video uploads from social media and news sources. There’s some curating, but the curators, Mark Ghuneim and students from ICP’s New Media Narratives program, use a light hand in controlling what shows up. The whole, which includes hundreds more images on the exhibit’s dedicated webpage, is meant to point a questioning finger at our image-focused world.

What does it mean that our history will be recorded in daily, living detail? Is there any truth to the ideas that we forget to live when we spend so much effort recording? Does the sheer wealth of imagery dilute the importance of iconic photos, past, present, and future?

ICP’s current Curator-in-Residence, Charlotte Cotton says that the “non-hierarchical organization allows for dialogue between and about the diversity of photographic and visual culture.” Meaning, in essence, that with nothing sorted by ‘importance’ and too much on the walls to truly take in, the viewer has to curate for themselves what is deserving of focus.

This approach has drawn a great deal of criticism from reviewers, as has the ICP’s new venue and their decision to leave their historical collection entirely in storage, not even on site.

“The reopened ICP’s disagreeable first show junks art history and simply aggregates images,” says one reviewer. But another calls the exhibition “stimulating and unsettling,” both of which are complimentary terms in the art world.

All are invited to see the exhibit themselves and form their own opinions. It will occupy ICP’s main gallery at 250 Bowery, Manhattan, through January.

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