“Seeing Ourselves: Masterpieces of American Photography from George Eastman House Collection” opens February 12 at the New York State Museum and will be on view through May 9 in the Museum’s West Gallery. The exhibit will introduce visitors to historical and contemporary photographic masterpieces. Proving the power of photography, more than 155 images and artifacts tell the story of America over the last 150 years.
The photographers range from professionals such as Lewis W. Hine, Dorothea Lange, Matthew Brady and many others, including several who are unidentified. The images capture America and Americans in various ages and stages. They depict grandeur and simplicity, joy and anger, beauty and grit. A limited number of brochures on the exhibition will be available at the gallery entrance.
The exhibition is drawn entirely from the collection of George Eastman House. It is arranged into five sections: “American Masterpieces,” “American Faces,” “America at War,” “America the Beautiful” and “American Families.” Each section addresses key photographic works documenting the American cultural experience.
The “American Masterpieces” section displays photographs that show outstanding artistry, skill or workmanship. They show that American masterpieces cover a broad spectrum of subject, format, and history. Some photographs began as intentional works of art while others began as something else – propaganda, information, aide memoire, or novelty — and only later achieved iconic status. This section will include “The Steerage” by Alfred Stieglitz, “Nautilus” by Edward Weston, and “Yosemite Valley, Summer” by Ansel Adams.
In the “American Faces” section visitors will see photographs of people that have been used to create celebrity, establish identity, and influence our perceptions. Photographers who have captured these American faces include Mathew Brady, Richard Avedon, Alfred Stieglitz, Dorothea Lange, Edward Steichen, Mary Ellen Mark, and Gordon Parks.
The “America at War” section reminds visitors that of all the information that photography brings us, little is more pressing than news about war. Since the beginning of photography, images have defined our understanding of conflict. Images will include “A Harvest of Death, Gettysburg” by Timothy O’Sullivan; David Douglas Duncan’s “Combat, Korea”; “Reaching Out, The DMZ” by Larry Burrows; and “Vietnam Memorial, Washington, DC” by Hiroshi Watanabe.
Timeless photographs that exemplify the beauty and power of nature and an expanding America are included in the “America the Beautiful” section. On display will be William Henry Jackson’s “Mt Sopris, from Junction of Rock Creek,” “Refugio Beach” by Ansel Adams, “Dunes” by Edward Weston and “Desertscape, Death Valley” by Marilyn Bridges.
The “American Families” section explores the role photography can play in helping to put our own family experience into context and define “family” for ourselves. Included are “Tenement Penthouse” by Weegee, “Italian Family, Ellis Island” by Lewis Hine, “East Harlem” by Helen Levitt and “The Damm Family in Their Car” by Mary Ellen Mark.
Forty-minute Interpretive Tours of Seeing Ourselves, and an open discussion focusing on several photographs, will be held at 1 and 2 p.m. on February 13-14, 27-28, March 20-21, April 24-25 and May. 8-9.
A podcast is available at http://podcast.eastmanhouse.org/discussing-seeing-ourselves/.
Photo: Powerhouse Mechanic, 1920, by Lewis W. Hine. Courtesy George Eastman House.