Susan Sontag observed that photographs “do not seem to be statements about the world so much as pieces of it, miniatures of reality that anyone can make or acquire.” The way they are framed, and the information that is retained and excluded, helps photographs create a partial reality. Although sometimes problematic, this also allows us as viewers to build completed narratives and interpretations surrounding the events of the photograph to create different, sometimes contradictory wholes.
This exhibition undertakes a similar task of reinterpretation. Ranging from Robert Frank’s honest exploration about the exploitation of Puerto Rico by the American government to Jerome Liebling’s subtle critique of the fact that American brands like Coca Cola have historically targeted their marketing campaign toward a specific social group, this selection of black and white photographs from 1940 to 1960 claim to reveal the delicate, sometimes questionable group of ideas that compose American cultural identity. The monochrome nature of these images creates a sense of both historicity and timelessness—the pictures look aged but simultaneously lend themselves to modern re-imagination. Hence, we contextualize them to ask questions about contemporary notions of American identity—of who belongs here and who does not. How does capitalism, with its primary impetus of profit making, shape notions of American cultural identity? What impact have big brands had on nationalism and anti-immigration sentiments? In what sense may we call ourselves the land of the free and the home of the brave?
Organized by the Mead Art Museum’s summer 2017 student interns: Shreeansh Agrawal ’20E, Jane Bragdon ’20, Claire Cho ’20, Crystal Ganatra ’19 and Nekhoe Hogan ’19.
All are invited to celebrate the opening of this exhibition on Tuesday, Sept. 12. Curatorial remarks begin at 5 p.m. with a reception to follow from 6–8 p.m. The event is free and open to all.