ACTUAL SIZE! Photography at Life Scale

International Center of Photography, New York, January 28 - May 2, 2022

How big can a photograph be? From postcards to giant billboards, they are almost any dimension, but what happens when they are the very same scale as their subject matter? A photo of a bus the size of a bus? An actual-size image of Muhammad Ali’s fist? Actual Size! Photography at Life Scale is a playful yet philosophical exhibition that offers viewers a diverse group of images that all share the same dimension as life itself. Conceived especially for ICP’s unique double-height gallery, it is a rethinking of the fundamental qualities of this perplexing and elastic medium.

Image makers of every kind, from fine artists to advertisers, have explored the strange magic that happens when the photograph becomes an uncanny double for the world it depicts. Works by Jeff Wall, Ace Lehner, Laura Letinsky, Kija Lucas, Aspen Mays, Tanya Marcuse, and others share the walls with anonymous posters, magazine spreads, and book covers.

In 1946, the renowned writer Jorge Luis Borges described a society that wanted a map of its land so detailed that it eventually covered the land itself. Of course, the map was useless, and the inhabitants took to living on it as it disintegrated. Actual Size! is an homage to Borges’s wild but serious idea, showing us new ways to consider what a photograph is, and what it can be.

Aspen Mays, Dodging Tools, 2013. © Aspen Mays, Courtesy the artist and Higher Pictures Generation

Tanya Marcuse Woven Nº 30, 2018. © Tanya Marcuse