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Collections> Browse Sarah Charlesworth

Sarah Charlesworth
Holdings (3)
2 photographs, 1 internet art

Wikipedia About Sarah Charlesworth

Sarah Charlesworth (born 29 March 1947) is a well-known American conceptual artist and photographer. She was born in East Orange, New Jersey. She received a Bachelor of Arts degree from Barnard College in 1969 and now lives in New York City. She has received several grants from the National Endowment for the Arts (1976, 1980, 1983) as well as from the New York State Creative Artists Public Service (1977) and the John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship Award for Visual Art (1995). Charlesworth has held various teaching positions at New York University, The School of Visual Arts (NY), Hartford University (CT), and currently teaches Master Critique in the MFA Photography, Video and Related Media Program and The School of Visual Arts. Full Wikipedia Article

essay Sarah Charlesworth, Walker Art Center Collections, 2005

How precisely do we see history? More to the point, how does our culture use photographs to visually construct that history? These are some of the questions that Sarah Charlesworth began to investigate in her earliest works. Emerging in the 1970s as part of a generation of American artists who came of age in a world increasingly dominated by the ubiquity of the media, she turned to photography as a critical tool in order to explore the circulatory power of this realm of images. In her first foray into this new media landscape, Charlesworth created a series of photographic works between 1977 and 1979 grouped together under the title Modern History, which examined the circulation of pictures in the international print media. As she herself suggested in 1979, “In these works, I am concerned not so much with that which lies behind as that which asserts itself through images … the history, the force, which exerts itself through their particular and systematic usage, in the immediate yet expanded world we see as our context.”1

In April 21, 1978, her second installment in the Modern History series, Charlesworth focused her critical lens on the life of a single photographic image as it migrated around the world on the front pages of forty-five different newspapers over the course of two days. The image was the infamous photograph of the kidnapped Italian Prime Minister Aldo Moro taken by his captors in the Red Brigades terrorist group. It depicts the soon-to-be-murdered captive holding up a copy of the newspaper La Repubblica emblazoned with the banner headline “Moro assassinato?” Charlesworth’s approach to this image was an analytical one that sought to investigate the structural syntax of the photograph’s placement within the newspapers in which it was reproduced. What did its size, location, and editorial cropping in each particular publication say about the importance and cultural power attached to that image and event in different parts of the world? The artist’s aesthetic strategy was deceptively simple in that she rephotographed each front page of the newspaper on which this photo appeared, and then removed everything except the masthead and pictures, leaving them to float on a field of empty white space. The resulting work tracks the respiration of this image across the world from its complete domination of the front page of the Roman daily Il Messaggero to its diminutive placement alongside a prominent photograph of Queen Elizabeth II in the Globe and Mail of Toronto. Like the Abraham Zapruder film that captured the assassination of John F. Kennedy, this photograph became much more than simply a documentary marker of a tumultuous historical moment; it actually came to stand in for that moment itself. Charlesworth’s version of modern history is one that foregrounds the power of such images to shape our collective experience, an effect completely relevant to a contemporary world in which the words “Abu Ghraib prison” immediately summon a series of photographic images that have themselves become an infamous part of history.

  1. Sarah Charlesworth, “Unwriting: Notes on Modern History,” in Modern History, exh. cat. (Edinburgh, Scotland: New 57 Gallery, 1979), 1.

Fogle, Douglas. “Sarah Charlesworth.” In Bits & Pieces Put Together to Present a Semblance of a Whole: Walker Art Center Collections, edited by Joan Rothfuss and Elizabeth Carpenter. Minneapolis, MN: Walker Art Center, 2005.

© 2005 Walker Art Center