African American Portraits: Photographs from the 1940s and 1950s

The Met Fifth Avenue, New York, United States
26 Jun 2018 - 08 Oct 2018

Image: Unknown American makers and Daisy Studio (American, active 1940s). Studio Portraits, 1940s–50s. Gelatin silver prints. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Twentieth-Century Photography Fund, 2015, 2017 (2017.560, 2015.339, 2015.309, 2015.338, 2017.591, 2017.636, 2015.328, 2015.344)

African American Portraits: Photographs from the 1940s and 1950s, on view June 26 through October 8, 2018, will present more than 150 studio portraits from the mid-20th century.

The exhibition offers a seldom seen view of the African American experience in the United States during World War II and the following decade—a time of war, middle-class growth, and seismic cultural change. Part of an important acquisition made by The Met in 2015 and 2017, these photographs build on and expand the Museum’s strong holdings in portraiture from the beginning of photography in the 1840s to the present.

The exhibition is made possible by the Alfred Stieglitz Society.

The portraits on view generally feature sitters in a frontal pose against a painted backdrop—soldiers and sailors model their uniforms, graduates wear their caps and gowns, lovers embrace, and new parents cradle their infants. Both photographers and subjects remain mostly unidentified.

In the wartime economy, photographic studios became hubs of activity for local and regional communities. Some studios were small and transient, others more established and identifiable, such as the Daisy Studio in Memphis, Tennessee. Using waterproof direct positive paper rather than film, the studios were able to offer their clientele high quality, inexpensive portraits in a matter of minutes. The poignancy of these small photographs lies in the essential respect the camera offers its subjects, who sit for their portraits as an act of self-expression.

African American Portraits: Photographs from the 1940s and 1950s is organized by Jeff L. Rosenheim, Joyce Frank Menschel Curator in Charge of the Department of Photographs at The Met.




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