It's a chicken vs. egg dilemma. Did the art and (low) culture magazine, Vice, start the early 2000s trend of naturalistic, shoot-from-the hip photography, or did it chronicle these young photographers as they (post) post-punked up New York's art scene? Saturday's 2009 Vice Magazine Photography Exhibition (open till August 8th) offered a slice of the “Vice Style” inherent in works by young photographers Jamie Lee Curtis Taete, Maggie Lee, and former Vice photo editor, Tim Barber. Vice magazine virtually changed the world of art photography by championing documentary photographers that captured the world in a nexus between real life and an idealized youth culture. Vice photography is the inverse of youth photography 100 years ago, where Jacob Riis and Lewis Hine captured young people toiling in coal mines. For many Americans the 21st century, responsibility-free adolescence stretches well into people's 20s and 30s, and Vice is there to catch it all. This obsession with partying, bodily fluids, and sex isn't just juvenile or funny, it is the detail of an American culture enamored with youth, frantically grasping at life before it slips away.
As Vice photo editor, Tim Barber's keen eye helped catalogue youth culture in the Brooklyn's artistic eruption in the early 2000s. His discerning eye helped raise the status of Vice alums Ryan McGinley, Richard Kern, and Terry Richardson as they captured youth, sexuality, and joie de vivre in their edgy but captivating works. This mix of snap shot, “I can do that” photography, seemingly put art photography into the hands of amateurs in the same way that hip hop and graffiti provided egalitarian art mediums. But the Vice exhibition's images of girls looking through fishbowls, a distraught artist with a head in the oven, and dirty stuffed animals aren't just snapshots. Each image act as a document of young people's vision and imagination. Maggie Lee, 21, and her series documents her struggles in an artless suburban world. Jamie Lee Curtis Taete–based out of the “Silver Lake of London” neighborhood, Whitechapel–portrays the spontaneity of party culture and the beauty behind an unposed shot. As photographs age, their content changes meaning. The jokes are lost or forgotten, and the photo ultimately stands alone as a document of art as result of, or reaction to, boredom.