The Photographers Gallery in London are mounting a ‘serious’ exhibition of cats and fluffy little kittens titled; ‘For the LOL of Cats: Felines Photography and the Web’. Photographs of cats have come to dominate the web. From the cute to the absurd, millions of cat images are viewed, modified and shared online each day. In spite of their viral proliferation and popular appeal, cat photography has largely been overlooked as a significant cultural form.
For the LOL of Cats: Felines, Photography and the Web considers this paradox with a season of cat photography displayed on The Wall as part of the Gallery’s digital programme. Over the next three months, a diverse array of photo bloggers, photographers and related online communities will be invited to share their feline image collections, reflecting the multifaceted world of cat culture online.
The exhibition will focus on a number of contemporary trends and projects including cat scanning, cat breading, cat shaming and The Infinite Cat Project, a website containing over 1700 images of cats gazing at each other via computer screens. These sit alongside historical examples such as The Brighton Cats, a series of carte-de-visite photographs by Harry Pointer from the 1870s. Pointer’s carefully constructed images depict cats in different poses and humorous situations, and are recognised in Internet folklore as one of the earliest examples of comical cat photography. The pages of a 1952 Picture Post also provide archival inspiration for the show, in the form of Thurston Hopkins’ photos of London Cats who were given human voices via their captions. Early examples of cat imagery online are also on display including 1990s cat GIFs, ASCII art and graphical buttons and banners.
A major part of the exhibition will be dedicated to the more recent online phenomenon of Lolcats: images of cats accompanied by amusing text which is often idiosyncratic and grammatically incorrect. The first appearance of Lolcats on the Internet can be traced back to imageboards such as 4Chan which provided users with the opportunity to communicate primarily via images. For the LOL of Cats features Helene Dams’ I can has history? A net art piece attempting to map a Lolcat family tree which traces online memes such as Longcat, Serious Cat, Happy Cat and Breaded Cats back to their origins.
In addition to the endless flow of anonymous cat photographs the exhibition will also include images by cat photographers Cooper (USA) and Nancy Bean (UK) who have gone on to find fame and artworld acknowledgment extending beyond the web. Photoblogs devoted to documenting the lives of celebrity cats such as Maru, whose online following is estimated in the millions, and Shironeko the Zen Cat will also be featured in the show.
For the LOL of Cats will be accompanied by a specially commissioned publication, due out in November, in which a variety of commentators respond to the phenomenon of cats, photography and the Internet. They include Daniel Palmer, Carol Mavor, Tom Woolley, RM Vaughan, Ivan Vartanian and Kate Miltner. A panel discussion will be hosted by the Gallery on 4 December 2012 in which photography’s relationship to meme culture will be debated.
FOR THE LOL OF CATS FELINES, PHOTOGRAPHY AND THE WEB Photographers Gallery 12 October 2012 – 16 January 2013