New Addison Exhibit “Photographers Among Us” Pushes Viewers to Explore the Power of Photography

In a makeshift shelter held up by tree branches, a woman clutches her infant child close to her body. The two are dressed in tattered clothing, and the mother’s face is creased with worry lines. This black and white photograph, titled “Migrant Mother” and taken by Dorothea Lange, is a variant of the famous photograph that has come to represent the Great Depression. It is currently on display in the Addison Gallery of American Art.

“I think that the fact that many of these photos are in black and white really shows the mood of the whole era. I think a lot of young people here have learned about the Great Depression, and the exhibit kind of brings that period to life for us and we can truly see the suffering, seeing it not just in a book,” said viewer Valerie Tang ’20.

The new Addison exhibition, “Photographers Among Us,” opened on April 7 and is located on the second floor of the museum. It features over 200 photographs selected from the Addison’s permanent collection, and was curated by Tessa Hite, Curatorial Fellow.

Hite wrote in an email to The Phillipian, “The exhibition traces the history of pre-digital photojournalism and documentary photography, and considers how advancements to photographic technologies have shifted the ways in which photographs are produced and disseminated.”

Hite hopes that the exhibit helps viewers realize the power of photograph and the potential that everyone has to influence their community.

“Today, we are all photographers walking around with cameras in our pockets. Now more than any time before, anyone has the power to take images — be they of protests or of their community — that can be seen by innumerable audiences on the internet. So I hope too that this exhibition can inspire these acts of citizen journalism,” wrote Hite.

The photographs in each room are separated by themes that demonstrate the variety of forms of photography.

Hite wrote, “The social reform photographs in the first gallery demonstrate how photographs are used to produce social change. In the second gallery, magazines show how photographs were disseminated and read by contemporary audiences. The third gallery on war photography speaks to the role of photographs as historical records and Blumberg’s series raises questions about how war is conveyed in the press. Finally, the last gallery has extended series on communities or landscapes, which are sometimes more personal projects.”

The photo “Migrant Mother” is part of the social reform exhibit and were deliberately commissioned to show the conditions of the time. According to Hite, “Migrant Mother” was taken while Lange was working for the Resettlement Administration and was intended to illustrate the necessity of such government assistance programs. Taken years later, Russell Lee’s photograph, “Jack Whinery and His Family,” was intended to boost morale as the war approached.

“In the many decades since, these masterful photographs have continued to emotionally resonate with countless viewers. But beyond this, knowing the photographers’ motivations, helps us understand the images in a greater historical context,” wrote Hite.

The only collection of photographs printed in color is of a small store in Alabama, where 11 photos are taken across the span of 35 years from 1967 to 1991. They are framed almost exactly the same way, with a direct shot of the store’s front, and clearly show the changes with each passing year.

“It was almost surreal to see the technology of photography get better and better with each one, but the shop itself seemed almost frozen in time,” said viewer Vincent Fan ’20.

Hite hopes that viewers will think carefully about the stories behind each photograph they see in the exhibit. She also urges people to consider the images we see in everywhere everyday life.

“By thinking how and why the photographs assembled in this exhibition were commissioned and published, I am hoping students will continue to ask the same questions about the images that they see on the news, social media or in advertisements. It is also equally important to consider what is being deliberately left out of the frame. Who is not being represented?” wrote Hite in an email to The Phillipian.

“Photographers Among Us” will be on display until July 31.