Chrysler Museum Reveals Portrait of America through Photography

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Chrysler Museum Reveals Portrait of America through Photography
Arthur Rothstein (American (1915–1985), Inhabitants in Front of the Post Office, Nethers, Virginia, in Shenandoah National Park, October 1935 Gelatin-silver print. Museum purchase, in memory of Alice R. and Sol B. Frank.

NORFOLK, VA.- The Chrysler Museum of Art presents Portraying a Nation: American Portrait Photography, 1850–2010, which is on view through March 27, 2011 in the Frank Photography Galleries.

From the rise of the daguerreotype in the 1840s to the digital imagery of today, photography has played a crucial role in capturing and defining who we are as Americans. Drawn from the Chrysler’s extensive photography collection, Portraying a Nation presents more than 100 portraits by American photographers.

Affordably priced, easy to produce, and available to virtually everyone, portrait photography ranks among the most popular media. In the Chrysler’s exhibition, four thematic sections—“Friends and Family,” “I Am What I Do,” “My Message is My Meaning,” and “Joiners and Loners”—celebrate the vitality and diversity of those who define themselves as Americans. And, in doing so, it creates a vast portrait that reveals the ever-changing face of America itself.

The exhibition includes works by unknown artists of unknown people including Unknown Man, circa 1850, a sixth plate daguerreotype, to an image by Robert Mapplethorpe of his life-long friend Patti Smith in New York in the 1960s, to everything in between including George Tice’s photograph of a barber, Leo Cooper, Hannibal, Missouri, 1984.

Three images in the exhibition are by Ernest Withers, the world-renowned civil rights photographer, who was recently identified as an FBI informant by the Commercial Appeal, a newspaper in Memphis. His namesake museum is scheduled to open in Memphis next month. The three images are among 20 in the Chrysler’s collection and include I Am A Man, Sanitation Workers Strike, Memphis, Tennessee; Tina Turner With Ikette; and One of the Early Greats of the Negro Baseball Leagues, Neil Robinson of The Memphis Red Sox.

Portraying A Nation challenges the viewer to consider what constitutes a portrait. Are portraits only those images taken in a formal setting, while posing for a photographer in his or her studio? Or, can we snap an informal image of an anonymous individual in the midst of his daily life and still call it a portrait? And how would you choose to portray yourself now, in the age of Facebook?

“Photography is the most democratic of art forms,” notes organizing curator Jeff Harrison. “I wanted to demonstrate how a vibrant democracy like ours has used portrait photography over the generations to celebrate all of us.”

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