PHOTOdocument: 20th-Century American Photography and Found Text

March 30–July 22, 2012

Louis Faurer, Times Square, USA, 1950, Gift of Leonard A. Fink (Class of 1952)

Exhibition Checklist

This special exhibition weaves 32 photographs from the Mead’s collection into an account of the development of documentary-style photography in the United States from the First World War to the dawn of the digital age. All of the photographs feature “found text”—letters, words and phrases that already existed in the environment and were not added by the artists. Considered together, the photographs offer a compelling glimpse into changing American identities over the course of the 20th century.

Presented chronologically, from about 1917 to 1988, the exhibition is organized according to subject, such as city inhabitants or the cinema, and concept, such as politics or economics. In the photographs, found text appears in signage, marquees, posters and product packaging, materials that the pioneering photographer Walker Evans characterized as composing a uniquely American discourse. If photography is often considered a “true” record of history, and advertising thought to express an ideal, then this exhibition’s photographs incorporating found commercial texts occupy a liminal space, poised between 20th-century social realities and the American Dream. In this way, they approach the aspiration of street photographer Joel Meyerowitz, approximating “the Great American Novel in photographs.”

PHOTOdocument: 20th-Century American Photography and Found Text is made possible by generous support from the Hall and Kate Peterson Fund and the Templeton Photography Fund. 

Accompanying the exhibition is a fully illustrated catalogue written by Maggie Dethloff, the museum’s Andrew W. Mellon Post-Baccalaureate Curatorial Fellow for 2010–12. The publication of the catalogue is supported by the Templeton Photography Fund.

PHOTOdocument: Twentieth Century American
Photography and Found Text
Dethloff, Maggie
ISBN: 978-0-914337-33-1