Museum Watch: "Recollections" at the New York Public Library

Posted by David Ozanich — 2 Nov 2010


There is a new show up at the New York Public Library celebrating the 30th Anniversary of their photo collection called "Recollection." The Wall Street Journal, in a really fascinating article that deserves your attention, looks at Walker Evans’s "Lucille Burroughs, Daughter of a Cotton Sharecropper. Hale County, Alabama" from 1936 (seen above).

Any serious photographer or student of American history will be familiar with the landmark book of photographs and prose “Let Us Now Praise Famous Men” (1941) by Evans and James Agee which documents the harsh life of American sharecroppers. Lucille Burroughs’s family figured importantly in the reportage of the book. Here is an excerpt from the article:

A portrait is a collaborative effort, a joint venture of two wills. The amateur tells his subject to smile or "say, cheese," and gets a picture of calculated insincerity. Walker Evans seems to have paid young Lucille Burroughs the grand courtesy of letting her determine how she would present herself to the world. Of the many portraits Evans took of the Burroughses and their extended family, Evans's recent biographer James R. Mellow considers the portrait of Lucille the most fascinating.

Mr. Pinson says he selected the pictures for "Recollection" by going through boxes of photographs (the collection has 500,000) and picking the ones that struck him individually. He chose the Evans portrait because he thought "in and of itself it was a powerful object," one that viewers would "take something away from." What we take away from a portrait is affected by what we bring to it, and part of what Mr. Pinson brought to the portrait was knowledge of what happened to Lucille Burroughs subsequent to her encounter with Walker Evans.

The show at the NYPL sounds pretty great. Here’s what they say on their website:

Henri Cartier-Bresson compared portraits to a visual reverberation, in which “the people come back to you like a silent echo. A photograph is a vestige of a face, a face in transit.” His definition of portraiture (appealing to themes of recall, repetition, and return) also applies more generally to photography itself, describing a medium that has been repeatedly renegotiated over its short history, whether in terms of mechanical reproduction, documentary evidence, or as an independent art. Recollection, along with its online multimedia presentation, celebrates thirty years of photogaphy at The New York Public Library.

Among the more than 90 photographers whose work will be shown are Berenice Abbott, Vito Acconci, Diane Arbus, Eugène Atget, Richard Avedon, Margaret Bourke-White, Brassaï, Robert Capa, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Walker Evans, Robert Frank, André Kertész, William Klein, Duane Michals, Irving Penn, August Sander, Cindy Sherman, Stephen Shore, and William Wegman.

And for those who live far from New York, do take a few moments (or several since it’s fascinating) to check out the online media presentation of “Recollection.” All the selected photos, along with descriptions, are presented along with music! Seriously - good stuff.

Below, a photo by Amy Arbus of the performer Ann Magnuson in 1981 and another by William Wegman. The show runs through January 2nd, 2011.


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