Sunday, July 17, 2011

Close to Home: Photographers and Their Families

Where: Smithsonian American Art Museum

When: through July 24, 2011

The photographs in this exhibit are all of family members of the photographers. It's a way to see something personal about the artists. You don't get the unstudied personal information you would see in a quick snapshot, as these are carefully composed pictures, but because the subject matter is the artist's family, something of their background and personal lives is revealed.

Regardless of the relationship of the photographer to the subject, this show has some very fine pieces. The sequence of photographs of the artist's mother, who is suffering from dementia, is particularly fine; one example is the picture above. The mother looks dead to me, which perhaps reflects my view that the mind is all; the body is a mere container for thoughts, feelings, ideas. Interestingly enough, the photographer, Virginia Beahan, reported that her mother really responded to being photographed, as she liked the attention. If that's the case, I can't imagine how much less lifelike she would have been when she wasn't the center of attention.

The pictures of Margaret Strickland's sister in Valdosta, Georgia were quite striking. I felt as if I could write a novel about their lives, just from the few pictures I saw. Not that they were of such momentous occasions, but they gave a sense of their lives, particularly one taken on her grandmother's porch. There seems to be tension in the family; there's a certain desperation in her sister's face that makes the viewer wonder.

Verdict: Go see this show - the photographs are quite good, and the fact that the subject is the artists' families gives them a "pulling back the curtain" quality.

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