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In Light of the Past: Twenty-Five Years of Photography at the National Gallery of Art

May 31, 2015

Diane Arbus - A Young Man in Curlers at Home on West 20th Street, NYC - 1966

Roy DeCarava, Mississippi Freedom Marcher, Washington, D.C., 1963I’m drawn to portraits, which is sooooooo not-the-modern-era. The National Gallery of Art, in choosing which 175 photographs it’s collected over the last 25 years to display, offers an array of images to choose from. The scientifically-inclined are even encouraged to contemplate the balance between art and science, especially in early photography. But I’m more social. I like to stare at people, and life presents so few socially-acceptable staring opportunities.

William Klein - Boy Plus Girl Plus Gun - 1955Edward Steichon - Rodin - 1907When I stare at portraits, I delve into pores. I ponder whether eyes are the windows to the soul. I wonder if the child knows what it would mean if the gun were loaded. I marvel at perfectly-drawn eyebrows. I imagine what skin feels like. I follow the slope of a nose and contemplate if it came from the mother or the father. I study the weave of a jacket for the sound it must make when it rubs together. I wonder about immortality. I wait for eyes to follow me, and sometimes they do.

Paul Strand - Rebecca - 1922

Frederick H. Evans - Aubrey Beardsley - 1894Staring is so subversive. Portraits feel like that, too. Maybe a desire to watch other people is the modern era after all.

In Light of the Past: Twenty-Five Years of Photography at the National Gallery of Art is at the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. through July 26, 2015.

Images above from top-left to bottom right are Diane Arbus – A Young Man in Curlers at Home on West 20th Street, NYC – 1966, Roy DeCarava, Mississippi Freedom Marcher, Washington, D.C., 1963, William Klein – Boy Plus Girl Plus Gun – 1955, Edward Steichon – Rodin – 1907, Paul Strand – Rebecca – 1922, Frederick H. Evans – Aubrey Beardsley – 1894. 

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