Constantly growing and in flux, the built and natural environments in which we live have proven to be enduring sources of artistic inspiration. Like his fellow Los Angeles-based artists Ed Ruscha and Catherine Opie, Robbert Flick (born 1939, Amersfoort, Netherlands) is deeply inspired by the sprawling city and its changing landscape, both urban and natural.
From the late 1970s through 1990, Flick worked diligently on a series titled Sequential Views. Unsatisfied with the information conveyed by a single image—common in American landscape photography—Flick would take multiple images of a chosen site at predetermined intervals. Part performance, Flick’s prescriptive approach to photography resulted in multiple images and a more complete understanding of the landscape around him. After developing the negatives, he would organize the images manually in a grid—an analog technique whose compositions further convey a more experiential understanding of time, space, and place.1
Beginning with the urban cityscape, such as the 1980 work above—a view of LAX looking north from Imperial Highway—Flick eventually expanded the series to include parts of the Midwest and parks such as Red Rocks, Joshua Tree, and Vasquez Rocks (the latter two of which are examples in SAM’s collection). Vasquez Rocks is today a Natural Area and Nature Center located in the Sierra Pelona Mountains north of Los Angeles in Antelope Valley, known for its iconic rock formations’ sedimentary layering. In S.V. 105 at Vasquez Rock #6, Flick’s gridded views appear to overlap and repeat at times, creating an episodic and almost cinematic rhythm. The slight shifts between each frame—evident in the placement of a rock formation or cropped shadow—make clear just how many different ways there are to see and represent the world around us.2
– Elisabeth Smith, SAM Collections and Provenance Associate
In checking out the exhibit, I couldn’t help but reflect on all the struggles and events that have ultimately lead to where we are today. SAM tasked me with making some work around the exhibit and so I decided to get some portraits of my favorite local artist friends, Cristina Martinez and Ari Glass in the space. We’ve all been inspired by Lawrence so this opportunity was really special.
Jacob Lawrence: The American Struggle questions the stories we’ve been told by amplifying narratives that have been systematically overlooked from America’s history. This exhibition reunites Lawrence’s revolutionary 30-panel series Struggle: From the History of the American People (1954–56) for the first time since 1958, and SAM will be its only West Coast venue. These modernist paintings chronicle pivotal moments from the American Revolution through to westward expansion and feature Black, female, and Native protagonists as well as the founders of the United States. Lawrence interprets the democratic debates that defined the early nation and echoed into the civil rights movements during which he was painting the Struggle series. Works by contemporary artists Derrick Adams, Bethany Collins, and Hank Willis Thomas engage themes of democracy, justice, truth, and the politics of inclusion to show that the struggle for expansive representation in America continues.
Sit down with multi-media artist Hank Willis Thomas and hear about the works on view in SAM’s exhibition Jacob Lawrence: The American Struggle. The exhibition questions the stories we’ve been told by amplifying narratives that have been systematically overlooked from America’s history. This exhibition reunites Lawrence’s revolutionary 30-panel series Struggle: From the History of the American People (1954–56) for the first time since 1958, and SAM is its only West Coast venue. These 30 panels are heavily informed by the contemporary issues of Lawrence’s time as they address the history of what it means to be an American. Viewing this rarely exhibited series today is a reminder of shared histories during this current divisive chapter in America, where the struggle for freedom and justice marches on.
Hank Willis Thomas (b. 1976) is a conceptual artist working primarily with themes related to perspective, identity, commodity, media, and popular culture. A trained photographer, Thomas incorporates mirrors and retroreflective vinyl to challenge perspectives and explore often overlooked historical narratives. My Father Died for This Country Too/I Am an American Also in this exhibition is an example of his work that is activated by flash photography. This role reversal makes the viewer create the image and asks who is included or erased in the biased storytelling of history. Rich Black Specimen #460, Thomas’ sculptural contribution to the exhibition, is a life-size interpretation of a symbol used in runaway slave advertisements in the 19th century.
Jacob Lawrence’s Struggle series interprets the democratic debates that defined early America and echoed into the civil rights movements during which he was painting the series. Works by contemporary artists Derrick Adams, Bethany Collins, and Hank Willis Thomas engage themes of democracy, justice, truth, and the politics of inclusion to show that the struggle for expansive representation in America continues.
Rebekah is one of the most prominent women in the Hebrew Bible—a woman, whose act of kindness, decidedly shapes her future:
Rebekah went one evening to fill her water-jar at the well. As she was returning, a stranger in charge of a string of laden camels stopped the comely young girl and asked for a drink. She gave it to him and offered to draw water for his camels as well. He bestowed upon her a gold earring and two gold bracelets. The man was [Eliezer,] Abraham’s trusted servant, sent to find a wife for his master’s son Isaac from among his kinfolk. Having earlier enlisted the help of an angel, he knew that this was the girl he sought.
In this image, photographer Eveleen Tennant Myers (British, 1856-1937) pays homage to an important female figure, but also establishes herself as an artist of merit—one that employs skillful darkroom techniques, staging, and an austere composition to create a truly modern photograph.
Myers was born in 1856 to English society matron Gertrude Collier Tennant (1819-1918). Her mother’s connections and patronage of artists, and her own social position, allowed her to pursue her interests as a freelance artist, rather than a commercial one who depended on a steady income to make a living. Through her mother, Myers was acquainted with the cultural elite of her time: the writers Gustave Flaubert and Victor Hugo and painters Edward Burne-Jones, Frederic Leighton, and Edward John Poynter. As a girl, she was a sitter for Julia Margaret Cameron and this encounter had a profound impact on her pursuit of photography. As a young woman, she sat for some of England’s most prominent painters, including John Everett Millais and George Frederick Watts, and became familiar with the act of being a model.
Myers married poet and psychical researcher Frederic William Henry Myers (1843-1901) in 1879. He had seen her portrait by Millais, and exclaimed to his friend, the writer George Eliot, “I have fallen in love with the girl in that picture.” Around 1888, in the early years of motherhood, Myers began her work as a photographer using her own children as models.
Working under the well-known Cambridge photographer, Albert George Dew-Smith (1848-1903), Myers developed a firm grasp of the technical and expressive subtleties of the medium. Her experience as a model allowed her to develop an easy rapport with her subjects—the politicians, scientists, scholars, writers, and artists of her day—and assisted her in becoming a successful portraitist. Wanting to develop her artistic practice she worked to perfect her “pictorialist” compositions and darkroom techniques—she experimented with poses, settings, and costuming, and, like Cameron, often emulated poses and compositions of great master paintings.
Rebekah at the Well, created in 1891, is one of her best known “aesthetic” photographs. It establishes Myers as an important women photographer in late Victorian England. In depicting the Biblical matriarch, Myers implores the staging and costumes she might have seen in amateur theater productions, but it’s the austerity of the figure that makes the photograph modern. A critic of the day noted that Myers masterly handles the drapery of Rebekah’s robe, “reminding one of the folds of a Greek chitôn in some marble of the Attic age.” Her expertise in the darkroom is demonstrated in the tonal values achieved in the model’s dark hair and folds of her gown. “The structure of the living person is felt beneath the dress, which clothes but does not conceal the limbs.” 
As we celebrate Women’s History Month, I chose this work as its creation involved a number of women: the women who played a role in creating an artist, Myers’s mother and Cameron; Rebekah, the woman who inspired the image; the model; and Myers, the photographer who constructed Rebekah at the Well.
– Traci Timmons, SAM Senior Librarian
 This succinct telling comes from Joan Comay, Who’s Who in the Old Testament, together with the Apocrypha (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1971): p. 320; see also Chiara de Capoa, Old Testament Figures in Art (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 2003): p. 102-107.  Judy Oberhausen and Nic Peeters, “Eveleen Myers (1856-1937): Portraying Beauty: The rediscovery of a late-Victorian aesthetic photographer,” The British Art Journal v. 17, no. 1 (Spring 2016), pp. 94-102.  Judy Oberhausen and Nic Peeters, “Excavating the Work of Eveleen Myers: The Rediscovery of a Late Victorian Photographer,” Understanding British Portraits, https://www.britishportraits.org.uk/blog/excavating-the-work-of-eveleen-myers-the-rediscovery-of-a-late-victorian-photographer/ (accessed 2/25/2021) and Oberhausen, “Eveleen Myers,” p. 94.  Oberhausen, “Eveleen Myers,” p. 94-96.  Ibid., p. 99.  John Addington Symonds, “Mrs. F.W.H. Myers,” Sun Artists, no. 7 (April 1891): pp. 53-54.
Image: Rebekah at the Well, 1891, Eveleen Myers, photogravure, 7 x 4 7/16 in., Mary Arrington Small Estate Acquisition Fund, 188.8.131.52
On July 21, 1930, W.E.B. Du Bois delivered a speech on the contamination and neglect of the Housatonic River. For Du Bois, born in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, “by a golden river and in the shadow of two great hills,” the Housatonic held personal as well as regional significance.
That summer, in his speech to the alumni of Searles High School (his alma mater), Du Bois reflected on how “this valley must have been a magnificent sight. The beautiful mountains on either side, thickly covered with massive trees, and in the midst of it all, the Housatonic River rolling in great flood, winding here and there, stretching now and then into lakes which are our present meadows and so hurrying always on toward the sea.” For Du Bois, the health of the river was commensurate with the health of the larger valley of Great Barrington, both natural and man-made. He went on to ask, “What has happened? The thing that has happened in this valley has happened in hundreds of others. The town, the whole valley, has turned its back upon the river. They have sought to get away from it. They have neglected it. They have used it as a sewer, a drain, a place for throwing their waste and their offal. Mills, homes, and farms have poured their dirt and refuse into it; outhouses and dung heaps have lined its banks.”
Over half a century later, artist LaToya Ruby Frazier grew up by a river that shares a similar history: the Monongahela. Located just east of Pittsburgh, Braddock—once a booming industrial town—was a hub of trade and commerce buoyed by Andrew Carnegie’s steel mill. As the steel industry declined in the 1960s and 70s, however, Braddock declined, too—their fates intertwined. Frazier, whose family dates back four generations in Braddock, recounts that while white residents could leave the area during this period, residents of color had a much harder time: “What’s interesting is that through discrimination and racial and systemic oppression, you see how Black people were entrapped in that area—through redlining, and not being able to get loans from banks to move to the suburbs, how they were left behind.”
Frazier’s photograph, The Bunn Family Home on Ninth Street, is part of her acclaimed 2013 series, A Despoliation of Water: From the Housatonic to Monongahela River (1930–2013). The photographic series, whose title recalls the words of Du Bois and his relationship to the Housatonic, looks at the post-industrial landscape of Braddock, bringing our attention to the continued fight for environmental and racial justice, and the ways in which the two causes are inextricably linked.
In her artist statement, Frazier described the natural and built environment of Braddock: “Andrew Carnegie’s 19th-century steel mill, railroads, and bridges dissect and erode the waters. One night the river flooded. Crossing through miles of man-made manufactures, contaminated soils, and debris, it filled the basement and soaked the floors of my childhood home on Washington Avenue, in the area historically known as ‘The Bottom’.”
The Bunn family home, photographed aerially, is also located in ‘The Bottom’. Previously surrounded by a number of thriving Black-owned residences and businesses, the home’s once-vibrant block dwindled, buildings turning into vacant lots. By 2013, the year the photograph was taken, the Bunn residence was nearly all that was left; its neighboring houses, businesses, and restaurants replaced with bags of the city’s discarded tire rubber––encroaching steadily.
The Bunn Family Home, and others images in The Despoliation of Water, underscores that the continued extraction and contamination of water and land is inextricable from racial, economic, and environmental injustice. For Frazier, understanding the symbiosis between physical health and environmental health, “the properties found in waters that surround our artificial environments reflect not only a physical condition but a spiritual condition in which we exist.”
– Elisabeth Smith, SAM Collections & Provenance Associate
This black and white photograph, taken by photojournalist Dan Budnik in 1965, is one of a series that Budnik had hoped to publish in a Life magazine photo-essay. (Life never ran the essay, citing recent back-to-back cover stories on the subject matter.) Arguably less intimate than some of Budnik’s other photographs, it captures a reflection of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., his likeness obscured and rendered distant in standing water. Clear to the viewer, however, is that his body isin stride—moving forward.
Part of a series that documented critical events of the civil rights movement, this photograph, taken on March 24, 1965, is situated during the days-long, 54-mile march from Selma to Montgomery—a march that protested discriminatory laws suppressing Black voters’ rights in the South, and would eventually lead to the passage of the landmark Voting Rights Act.
Budnik’s photograph, in fact, was taken in Lowndes County the day before demonstrators would arrive in Montgomery, and where King would deliver his now-famous “How Long, Not Long” speech, also known as “Our God is Marching On!”
This theme of movement—and movement forward—recurs throughout King’s speech, delivered to tens of thousands of civil rights activists on the steps of Alabama’s State Capitol. And while this photograph was taken the day before King’s historic remarks, Budnik’s image captures a sense of the literal and figurative dedicated movement that propelled King and others forward in their fight for equal rights.
In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., delivered on March 25:
Somebody’s asking, “How long will prejudice blind the visions of men, darken their understanding, and drive bright-eyed wisdom from her sacred throne?” . . .
How long? Not long, because “no lie can live forever.” . . .
How long? Not long, because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.
56 years later, there is still more work to be done—we remain on the move.
– Elisabeth Smith, SAM Collections & Provenance Associate
I would like to acknowledge that the museum sits on the Indigenous land of the Coast Salish People in and around the city of dᶻidᶻəlalič (renamed Seattle for Chief siʔaɫ).
My work is a response to the ways in which photography has been used as a mechanism of colonization. Decolonizing photography for the use of American Indians has to occur through the articulation of a Native representational subjectivity. In the place of colonizing representation, I want to produce images and sensory experiences that convey representation of, by, and for American Indians.
– Will Wilson
Since 2012, Will Wilson has put cultural sovereignty at the root of image-making events he calls the Critical Indigenous Photographic Exchange (CIPX). The thousands of images created over the course of this project now comprise the largest Indigenous created archive of images of Native peoples. These photo sessions—in which Wilson uses an old wet-plate technology to produce tintypes—are held in tribal communities and at urban institutions such as museums. Wilson’s CIPX event at the Seattle Art Museum, which took place in November 2017, centered on capturing the rich complexity of Native peoples living in the environs of Seattle, members of local reservation-based tribes, and “urban Indians” who came to Seattle from other places. Wilson invites anyone who wants to be photographed to present themselves however they want—wearing what they choose, holding objects that are important to them, and posing to their liking. As part of the exchange, he gives the tintype to the sitter while asking for permission to digitize the image for use in large-scale prints, like the work in SAM’s collection, K’ómoks Imperial Stormtrooper (Andy Everson). It is an amazing process to witness and reminds us that, for those who take authority over the processes of representation, methodologies and interpersonal exchanges matter.1
The sitter in this portrait is K’ómoks First Nation’s artist Andy Everson. His recent work draws from his two passions: Indigenous art and Star Wars. He transformed the stormtrooper into a positive figure by doing away with the uniform’s whiteness and covering it with formline designs. Everson wanted to change the stormtrooper from someone who blindly follows instructions from his higher-ups to someone who is able to take action for himself and for his own people. And so began this idea of the West Coast warrior, a defender of the land.2
Chilkat weavers were the inspiration for Everson when he created the Northern Warrior (2015), with its distinctive yellow, blue, white, and black colors. He also replaced the stormtrooper’s helmet with a traditional conical hat, made out of maple wood that his ancestors in Alaska would have worn.3 Many of his ancestors were warriors, and when their territory was threatened they did not hesitate to defend themselves. When they entered battle, they wore slatted armor suits and hard wooden helmets carved with their crest, proudly representing their ancestral lineage. The hat on this helmet displays the Kwakwaka’wakw crest of the sisiyutł—the double-headed serpent. This symbol of the warrior reminds us of the dichotomies in life—good and evil, right and wrong—and puts a human face in the middle to teach us that we must choose where we stand.4
Everson’s stormtroopers tell a story to both Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples about the importance of a warrior spirit. The works speak to the histories of Indigenous resistance and defiance in opposition to colonizing forces, and the importance of remaining steadfast in the face of adaptation and change.5 Like Wilson’s CIPX series, Everson’s stormtroopers draw people in with its familiar figure and invite people to engage with an art form, perhaps unfamiliar to some, that ultimately fosters a new kind of cultural exchange.
Speaking of stormtroopers, don’t miss the premiere of The Mandalorian season two on October 30. Will we find out Baby Yoda’s origin? Are there more of them? I hope so, and I hope you all have a safe and happy Halloween!
“I would like to see the baby.” – The Client, The Mandalorian
– Tina Lee, SAM Exhibitions and Publications Manager
The young girl gazes directly into the camera: serene, open, determined. Her arms cross in front of her; her hands reach for those of the other children beside her. Together, they form a chain that cannot be broken.
She is 11-year-old Quintella Harrell, as the photo’s caption notes, and she’s participating in the campaign for voting rights for Black people in Selma, Alabama, that took place in the early months of 1965. The photo was taken by Dan Budnik, who uses documentary photography as a tool for activism and to bear witness to the battle for equality. A few weeks before this photo was taken, a 26-year-old church deacon from Marion named Jimmie Lee Jackson was shot by a state trooper as he tried to shield his mother from the trooper’s nightstick, dying eight days later. Days after this photo was taken, the historic march from Selma to Montgomery, led by civil rights leaders such as Martin Luther King, Jr. and John Lewis, would begin. The images of state troopers attacking the activists during what came to be called “Bloody Sunday” galvanized public opinion, eventually leading to the march’s safe completion on March 21—and to the passing of the Voting Rights Act.
This moment of a young girl’s perseverance is captured forever in this black-and-white photo, but it’s far from the distant past. Today, Dr. Quintella Harrell is 65 years old. How much has changed?
SAM expresses deep compassion for those seeking justice for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery. We share in the grief, anger, and frustration that their friends, families, and Black communities are feeling, which has spread across the country and the world. SAM is committed to doing our part in the necessary work of creating racial equity. Art can play a critical role in creating structural change and equity; it deepens empathy, asks tough questions, and offers new visions for collective responses to our world. We must create that new world together.
Photographer Imogen Cunningham was not naturally inclined to stay home. Throughout her long and prolific career she travelled and exhibited widely, was celebrated for her portraits ranging from the rich-and-famous to the anonymous citizens of San Francisco, and even became a minor celebrity late in her life, appearing on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson and easily identified walking her hometown’s streets with her iconic black cape and peace sign pin.
For a brief period in between all of this activity, Cunningham was more-or-less bound to her home. In 1917, she moved with her 18-month-old son from Seattle to San Francisco to join her husband; less than one month later, she gave birth to twins. As the mother of three young children, her life was suddenly largely circumscribed by the boundaries of the family’s Oakland home. But Cunningham did not allow these circumstances to impede her work—her ambition and drive would, simply, not allow for it. Instead, she turned inward to subjects within her home—or more accurately, created subjects within her home—by cultivating a garden in her backyard.
In a 1959 interview, Cunningham recalled: “The reason I really turned to plants was because I couldn’t get out of my own backyard when my children were small.” And later, with her characteristic sharp wit: “I photographed the plants in my garden and steered my children around at the same time.” True enough about the circumstances, but these direct statements belie the care and attention with which Cunningham shot her celebrated botanical works, such as Magnolia Blossom, Tower of Jewels (1925).
Tightly framing her composition, Cunningham makes the subject of this work not the plant as a whole, but rather the innermost folds and stamen of the blooming magnolia flower. The luscious gradients of white in the petals, the play of shadows on the stamen, and the sharpness with which these details are captured serves to abstract the blossom, allowing us as viewers to see this familiar subject in a new way. This technique was at the heart of a new form of modernist photography, and Cunningham’s experimentations in her own garden were at the forefront of this aesthetic shift. It would not be until 1932 when a group of artists—including Cunningham, along with Ansel Adams, Edward Weston, and others—would formalize this style of photography under a collective they dubbed Group f/64, named for the smallest aperture setting that captures the kind of sharpness we see in Magnolia Blossom, Tower of Jewels.
Years later in 1957, after her children had grown and she’d long-since left the garden to experiment with other techniques and subjects, Cunningham returned to her earlier themes by capturing another artist and mother, at home and at work, in her portrait of Ruth Asawa with four of her children. The scene must have been familiar to Cunningham, and it was no mistake that she framed Asawa’s biomorphic, hanging sculpture at the center of the composition: at the heart of it all, she seems to suggest, is the work that drives us.
When SAM reopens its doors, you will be able to find Ruth Asawa Family and Sculpture in the exhibition Exceptionally Ordinary: Mingei 1920-2020.And November 2021 will bring together nearly 200 of Cunningham’s photographs, along with sculpture by Asawa, in the exhibition Imogen Cunningham: A Retrospective.Until then, as we all stay home, may their work inspire you to continue the work that drives you, whatever that may be.
– Carrie Dedon, SAM Assistant Curator, Modern and Contemporary Art
If you value the ways SAM connects art to your life, consider making a donation or becoming a member today! Your financial support powers Stay Home with SAMand also sustains us until we can come together as a community and enjoy art in the galleries again.
 Imogen Cunningham and Edna Tartaul Daniel, Imogen Cunningham: Portraits, Ideas, and Design (Berkeley: University of California Regional Cultural History Project, 1961), 26.  Imogen Cunningham, in Brooks Johnson, ed., Photography Speaks: 150 Photographer On Their Art (New York: Aperture, 2005), 120.
Since 2001, South Korean artist Jung Yeondoo has visited six different countries to make people’s dreams come true. In his Bewitched series, he asks local people about their wishes for their future and then makes them come true with a pair of photographs: the first, a portrait of the person in their everyday life and the second, showing their dream or fantasy. Bewitched #2 Seoul shows a Baskin Robbins employee at her job next to her dream of going to the Arctic. Her change in clothing, accessories, and setting changes how we see her and shows us a part of her that we might not know about upon first glance. Jung uses costumes, settings, and props to transform a scene from everyday life into the individual’s dream.
Speaking about his inspiration, Jung said in a 2015 profile, “I started this project with an artist’s curiosity about wanting to know about the lives of people you just pass every day,” he said. “It’s not about a happy perspective or a negative perspective . . . It is more about [my] attempts as an artist to communicate with someone else.”
What’s going on in these artworks?
What do you see that makes you say that? What more can we find?
What words would you use to
describe the person in each photograph, based on what they are wearing? Are
there any words that would describe both of them?
Look closely at the image on the
left. What do you think are some things this person does every day? What do you
see that makes you say that? Now do the same for the image on the right.
Why do you think you see the same
pose in both images? What does it feel like to pose in that way?
Take a moment to close your eyes and ask yourself these same questions: What is your dream? What is your fantasy? Who do you want to be? Think about this dream that you have for yourself. In this imagined future, what are you wearing? What are you doing? What are your surroundings? Time yourself for five minutes and free-write or draw any ideas that you have. Don’t worry about making it look or sound good, this is just to document your ideas.
Create a drawing or collage that represents the daily life and imagined dream of someone you know.
Call a friend and ask each other questions to learn more about your everyday lives, just like Jung Yeondoo interviews the people that he works with. Be sure to write down words that describe what they are saying! Here are some example questions:
Where are you right now? What does it look like there? What do you see around you?
What part of your daily routine happens in this space? Describe that routine.
Who else spends time here? Is anyone there now? What are they doing?
Is there anything else that you want to share?
Now, interview each other about your future dreams. This could be three months from now or far into the future. What is your dream? What is your fantasy? Who do you want to be? Keep digging—ask for more details that can help you imagine their dream. Write down more descriptive words as you listen.
For this next part, you can choose to either
Make a drawing!
Divide a blank sheet of paper in half. On the left side, create a drawing of your friend in their current daily life. On the right side, create a drawing of them in their imagined dream.
Tell a story with your drawing—the more details that you can include from the interview, the better!
Make a collage!
Choose a blank sheet of paper or piece of cardboard for your base. You’ll need: old magazines, newspapers, or other printed papers, a pair of scissors, and glue.
Cut out words and images from the magazines that remind you of what you learned about your friend in these interviews. Divide your cutouts into two piles: your friend’s everyday life and their wish for the future.
Draw a line dividing your base in half. On the left side, create a collage using the cutouts related to your friend’s everyday life. On the right side, create a collage using the cutouts related to your friend’s wish for the future.
When you are done, send each other photos of your artwork or exchange them the next time you see each other. What are some things that you learned about yourself and each other in this process?
– Yaoyao Liu, SAM Museum Educator & Lauren Kent, SAM’s Museum Educator for School Programs & Partnerships
Image: Bewitched #2 Seoul, 2001. Jung Yeondoo. C-print photograph. 62 5/8 × 51 9/16 in. (159.1 × 131 cm) Purchased with funds from the Estate of Rosa Ayer, 2016.8.1–2.
identical, white clocks sit on a scale. One—reading 12:15—appears the heavier
of the two, sitting ever so slightly below its counterpart at 12:04. Of course,
the minute discrepancy (pun intended) between the weights of the two
clocks—correlating with their respective times—is impossible, but the power of
the photographic image lies in its ability to convince us otherwise.
a master of the conceptual punchline, photographer Kenji Nakahashi plays with our
interpretation of time and its assumed objectivity. His longstanding interest
in the documentary value and, again, assumed objectivity of photography—a
time-based medium—is also at play, and clearly inextricable. In his
characteristically understated way, Nakahashi tackles the subjectivity of both
time and photography in one fell swoop.
Born in present-day Ibigawa, Japan, Nakahashi moved to New York City in 1973, where he lived until his death in 2017. His time in Japan was formative, but living and working in the United States is where Nakahashi developed a robust studio practice centered on everyday objects and materials. This is when he began turning the mundane—such as two clocks and a scale—into a source of poetic beauty, conceptual rigor, and humor. For Nakahashi, such small observations and actions became an important activity that allowed him to render the world anew.
– Elisabeth Smith, Collection and Provenance Associate
In my instance, visual activism has a lot to do with two things: connecting the visual and my activism. Which means that every image that I take has a lot to do with politics. In my work, I am pushing a political agenda.
– Zanele Muholi
Taken in Europe, Asia, North America, and Africa between 2014 and 2017, each of the 76 self-portraits in the Somnyama Ngonyama (Zulu for Hail the Dark Lioness) series is distinct and poses critical questions about social injustice, human rights, and contested representations of the black body. South African visual activist Zanele Muholi combines classical portraiture, fashion photography, and ethnographic imagery to establish different archetypes and personae.
Hear from the artist as they describe how household and found objects become culturally loaded props in these self-portraits. Scouring pads and latex gloves address themes of domestic servitude. Rubber tires, electrical cords, and cable ties reference forms of social brutality and capitalist exploitation. Collectively, the portraits evoke the plight of workers: maids, miners, and members of disenfranchised communities. The artist’s gaze challenges viewers while firmly asserting their cultural identity on their own terms. Don’t miss your chance to see Zanele Muholi: Somnyama Ngonyama, Hail the Dark Lioness while it’s still in Seattle at SAM through November 3.
Zanele Muholi: Somnyama Ngonyama, Hail the Dark Lionesswould have been the perfect subject for Leo season, but despite that, I am focusing on one of Muholi’s photographs for Virgo season instead. Their (Muholi identifies as they/them) work titled, Bester IV, shows Muholi against a geometric-patterned background with a scarf over their head like the Virgin Mary. Virgos rule detailed work like the complex patterning of material which requires patience, steadiness, and routine rigor to perform. I picked this work for Virgo season because the root of the word Virgo is virgin, and this photograph alludes to the most famous one, the Virgin Mother Mary. Most astrologers prefer to interpret the virginal representation of Virgo as the love of the unadulterated or the purity of essence rather than the religious or sexual overtones it signifies.
Zanele Muholi:Somnayma Ngonyama, Hail the Dark Lioness features 76 black-and-white self-portraits, making the artist very prevalent in this body of work. The time of Muholi’s birth is unknown, but according to Wikipedia, they were born on July 9, a Cancer—the archetype of the mother in astrology. The only planet that Muholi has in Virgo is Pluto, which makes a lovely sextile (a 60-degree angle) to their Cancer sun. In evolutionary astrology, Pluto represents the soul, its incarnations and the karmic gifts brought into this lifetime. Muholi, like others born between roughly 1956 and 1972, has a Virgo soul structure and it melds well with their Cancer ego structure (the sun). This is another reason why I chose this photograph as it mimics this aspect in their natal astrology chart.
Virgo is the 6th sign of the zodiac and the sun transits Virgo from August 23 to September 30 each year. Virgos are meticulous, but Pluto-in-Virgos take the details of an issue to a staggering profound depth and breadth. You can see it in the entanglement of multiple themes and the pure (virginal) qualities in Muholi’s photographs. There is obviously an incredible amount of thought and planning that went into each image so the viewer could understand the difficult and powerful, sometimes in-your-face themes communicated through their body of work. This, along with the simplicity of how the sitter is framed and the exacting ruthlessness of the proportions, takes you on an internal journey into the shadow side (Pluto) of society and your own psyche. But the quality that shines the most in Virgos is ‘service to others’ and that is what I ultimately see Muholi doing with their work. They portray images of the plight of workers, maids, miners, and members of disenfranchised communities, in order to serve the greater good, forcefully demanding recognition and integration.
– Amy Domres, SAM’s Director of Admissions Amy is also a Psychospiritual Evolutionary Astrologer and Healer at Emerald City Astrology.
Images: Installation view Zanele Muholi:Somnayma Ngonyama, Hail the Dark Lioness at Seattle Art Museum, 2019, photos: Natali Wiseman.
It wouldn’t be too difficult to argue that we live in a
youth-obsessed culture. If we only take a moment to look around, we can see it
everywhere. It pops up in advertisements, in movies, and in TV. It works its
way into our minds with anti-ageing skin creams and anti-graying hair dyes. It
settles into our society and fills us with the irrefutable fear of getting older.
To be young—or so our culture seems to suggest—is to be wild, uninhibited, and
free. And, conversely, to be old is to be slow, sidelined, and ignored.
While this is never fully true in reality, it is difficult
to deny that, in our current society, old age is a thing that many people fear.
Some might argue that this is even more prevalent for women, who are judged
more frequently on their looks than men and who, as such, feel more pressure to
maintain a youthful appearance. How many times have you heard a woman complain
about “getting old”? It is because women have so much more to lose when they
lose their youth.
In her series My Grandmothers, however, photographer
Miwa Yanagi presents a fascinating and poignant counterargument to our societal
fear of aging.
For My Grandmothers, Yanagi interviewed a variety of
women between the ages of fourteen and twenty, asking them to describe what
they thought their lives would look like in fifty years. She then staged photos
to capture these descriptions. The photo above is titled Yuka, named for
a woman who imagined herself living on in the U.S. with her younger, playboy
lover. Yuka, with bright red hair and a cigarette, riding down the Golden Gate
Bridge in the sidecar of a motorcycle, hardly fits our stereotypical idea of an
old woman. She is laughing with abandon, unashamed and unconstrained.
With Yuka, as with the other portraits in the series, Yanagi explores the idea that old age is liberating rather than limiting. Women, no longer defined by their beauty and (as one critic noted) by their reproductive abilities, are free to live for themselves, on their own terms, by their own rules. According to Yanagi, young women today are restricted by society’s expectations and are unable to express their true desires for the lives that they want to live. When they are freed from their youth, they are freed from those confines. Old age, it seems, is not so much our great nightmare as it is our ticket to a more liberating life.
As we have seen too many times in recent weeks, a single
bullet can destroy a life, a family, and a community. In this photograph by
Harold Edgerton, a bullet is frozen in time and space, its trajectory and
destruction momentarily bound.
Born in Nebraska in 1903, Edgerton studied electrical
engineering at MIT. His academic background, coupled with his interest in
motion and high-speed photography, allowed him to produce images that made
visible the imperceptible. After earning his PhD in 1931, Edgerton developed
and improved upon various stroboscopic models—a repeatable flash device better known
today as a ‘strobe’—ultimately applying for 45 patents between the years 1933
and 1936. The high-powered repetition of the strobe allowed Edgerton to effectively
freeze objects in motion in order to capture them on film, resulting in iconic
photographs that bring together science, technology, and art.
The history of photography is inextricable from the history and development of military technology—to borrow from French theorist Paul Virilio, “For men at war, the function of the weapon is the function of the eye”—making the bullet a fitting subject for Edgerton to capture. In this photograph, printed in 1961, the bullet serves to represent technological achievement and photographic mastery; today, however, it is hard to see a single bullet as anything other than destructive, especially when they are rarely singular, more often multiplied in the hundreds and deployed in seconds.
– Elisabeth Smith, SAM Collection & Provenance Associate
 Paul Virilio, War and Cinema: The Logistics of Perception (London: Verso, 1989), p. 20.
The work, Twins,
created by photographer and video artist, Sue De Beer (American, born 1973), depicts
two entwined twin teenage girls. De Beer’s work examines the internal conflicts
of high school-aged girls—a period of both happiness and great terror. De Beer
describes Twins as a “depiction of an impossible situation, a companion
who is not an other; a state of pure completion, the strength and horror of
desire without fear.” What makes this work even more interesting is
that De Beer portrays her subjects through her own likeness. Rather than a pair
of identical twins, this image is a digitally-manipulated photograph of the
artist herself. Using her own body to explore the identity of others is a
technique the artist utilizes, to great effect, in other work, like Two
Girls and her seminal video work, Making
Out With Myself.
In her correspondence with Seattle gallerist Linda Farris (American, 1945-2005), De Beer explains:
“Much of my work takes place at high school age, a time of heightened experience, and often a time of ‘first’ experience: sexual experience, drug experience, intellectual experience. High school is the first time since birth that your height has stabilized, when your mind had learned enough to begin to analyze information, rather than just accumulate it. You have all of the physical equipment you will carry with you for the rest of your life, but it is all so new and unfamiliar, your agony and pleasure is heightened by the newness of being ‘complete,’ fully formed, and yet blank, without experience.”
Twins, along with two other De Beer works, more visceral and violent—Two Girls and Untitled, from Heidi 2—came to SAM as part of the ContemporaryArtProject gift. CAP was the brainchild of Farris, who assembled a group of private collectors that were willing to share their private spaces with challenging images and objects. Farris selected daring new works that touched her very personally and passionately. In 2002, this group graciously gifted this work to SAM. The thirty-three artworks in the CAP collection include painting, photography, and video unified by a strong feminist perspective with an overarching theme: identity as a complex convergence of the cultural, social, and sexual selves.
I still feel that my interest in photography has something to do with the aesthetic, and that there should be a little beauty in everything.
– Imogen Cunningham
Cunningham was a seminal female American photographer, active in the Pacific Northwest
(where she was born and raised) and the San Francisco Bay Area. This image of
the artist and her grandchildren, taken in the reflection of a fun house mirror,
is representative of Cunningham’s larger practice that spanned decades:
experimental, technical, and the stuff of everyday life.
Cunningham is perhaps best known for her abstracted
botanical photography, though she also produced images of the human nude,
industrial landscapes, and street scenes. Here, her subject matter is much more
personal and takes on an emotional valence.
It is often perpetuated that Cunningham
was forced to choose between her career and motherhood, ultimately choosing the
latter when she closed her portrait studio. However, this narrative is not
quite accurate—Cunningham managed her responsibilities as both a mother and an
artist, developing a photographic practice that blended art and life
seamlessly. Neither roles were without sacrifice, of course, but Cunningham did
her best to juggle her identities as a mother and artist—identities that, to
this day, are either presented as mutually exclusive or not discussed nearly as
much as they should be.
Moyra Davey’s Mother Reader is a major achievement in this regard.
Published over fifteen years ago, the volume brings together testimonials,
diaries, and essays by women artists, writers, and creative thinkers whose
lives were forever altered—both positively and negatively—by pregnancy,
childbirth, and motherhood. It is an amazing resource that focuses on the
intersection of motherhood and creative life, honestly exploring the varied experiences
of being a mother. In Margaret Mead’s essay “On Being a Grandmother,” Mead, a
cultural anthropologist and contemporary of Cunningham, writes:
However, I felt none of the much trumpeted freedom from responsibility that grandparents are supposed to feel. Actually, it seems to me that the obligation to be a resource but not an interference is just as preoccupying as the attention one gives to one’s own children. I think we do not allow sufficiently for the obligation we lay on grandparents to keep themselves out of the picture—not to interfere, not to spoil, not to insist, not to intrude—and, if they are old and frail, to go and live apart in an old people’s home (by whatever name it may be called) and to say that they are happy when, once in a great while, their children bring their grandchildren to visit them.
When taken into consideration with this photograph,
one can’t help but wonder what Cunningham’s experience was like as a grandmother.
Was she able to spend real time with her daughter’s children? Did she feel a
similar tension between acting as a resource and an interference? How did being
an artist and grandmother differ from being an artist and mother? This early
selfie suggests that she and her grandchildren had some adventures and joyful
times, but it is just one glimpse into their relationship after all. Even still,
we’re fortunate Cunningham chose to share it with us—there’s certainly a little
beauty in it.
– Elisabeth Smith, SAM Collection & Provenance Associate
Veronica is a telling image from a larger body of work that examines what it’s like to be an erotic dancer. For the photographer, this series sheds light on the commitment artists make to produce meaningful work.
Erika Langley (American, born 1967) moved across the country in 1992 after attending the Rhode Island School of Design and working as an aspiring photojournalist. She quickly learned that photojournalism work in Seattle was hard to come by, being turned down by several potential employers. One told her to go out and do something “really gutsy and personal” and then come back.
Upon arriving in Seattle, Langley had noticed Seattle’s many topless bars and thought she could do a project on strippers. She stumbled upon the Lusty Lady–the legendary peep show establishment formerly located across First Avenue from the Seattle Art Museum—and was intrigued to learn it was women-run, that the dancers were protected from the patrons, and that they were paid a reasonable wage in 1990s dollars: $9/hour to start with a $1/hour raise every week if you came in on time and were doing well. Some dancers made $27/hour. This operation was defying industry stereotypes.
There was one catch. If she wanted to take photographs, she had to become a dancer. “If you really want to understand this, you have to work here,” she was told by one of the supervisors. “You have to dance to gain people’s trust and be taken seriously.” There was no access to the locker room until she was a Lusty Lady employee. So, she became a dancer. “I want to learn about a world I know nothing about, I want to see what I’m capable of.” She took the stage name, Virginia, after her home state: Southern, Gothic, exotic. She got to know her co-workers. They were married and single, straight and queer, some were doting mothers, and some had degrees or were working their way through school. She was interested in “showing these women as whole women…it’s just a job.”
In 1997 the body of work she’d created at the Lusty Lady was transformed into a book produced by European publisher Scala called The Lusty Lady. She delivered a copy of the book with a handwritten note–“Howdy, neighbor!”–to then SAM Deputy Director of Art/Jon and Mary Shirley Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art, Trevor Fairbrother. Shortly thereafter, he encouraged her to be part of a group show. In 1999, several of her works–from the Lusty Lady series, including Veronica—were included in the exhibition, Hereabouts: Northwest Pictures by Seven Photographers, one of the Documents Northwest: The PONCHO Series exhibitions. SAM ultimately brought five of Langley’s photographs into the collection.
Langley’s work reminds us that women like Veronica (that’s her stage name) work legal jobs, just like other women. “There are no venues like this for women, this is the intersection of public sex and fast food. Sometimes I feel like a naked waitress—other times, a quarter-operated social worker. It’s not so unlike other jobs. I punch a time clock, look forward to my breaks, and then I go home. But I love it best when my friends and I are howling with merriment in the shadow of Hammering Man.”
“Had the Lusty Lady not told me I’d have to dance to photograph, I’m sure I’d have made some competent but average pictures. Instead, working there changed my life, how I looked at myself and my sexuality, and it taught me about my own erotic power.” — Erika Langley
– Traci Timmons, SAM Senior Librarian
 Peggy Andersen, “An f-stop and a G-string Mark Woman’s Dual Career” in The Seattle Times (January 30, 2000), p. B4.
 Erika Langley, The Lusty Lady (Berlin: Scala, 1997), p. 10 and Andersen, p. B4.
 Langley, p. 7, 13 and Andersen, p. B4.
 Andersen, p. B4 and Trevor Fairbrother, Documents Northwest: The PONCHO Series: Hereabouts: Northwest Pictures by Seven Photographers (Seattle: Seattle Art Museum, 1999), p 3.
 Langley is referring to Hammering Man, the monumental public sculpture by Jonathan Borofsky, sited in front of the Seattle Art Museum. Learn more here. Fairbrother, p. 3.
 Langley, p. 7.
A pioneer of color photography (sometimes even referred to as “the godfather” of color photography), William Eggleston is, for many, synonymous with photographs that evocatively capture the mundane, trivial, and everyday. In the 1960s and 70s, at a time when color photography was largely associated with commercial advertising, Eggleston managed to elevate it into a fine-art form.
Born and raised in Tennessee, Eggleston largely focused his attention on the rural South but has traveled across the United States documenting post-war American life and culture. His compositions are unmistakable—they embody a slowness and stillness that, despite the certainty suggested by their documentary quality, grows more complex and complicated over time. Landscapes, buildings, signage, trash, restaurants, the contents of a freezer or oven—all is fair game for Eggleston. Peter Schjeldahl once wrote that to view Eggleston’s work was to be “pummeled by eccentric beauty, and to wonder about it.”
Untitled (Louisiana) is an exemplary work in this regard. Its geometry, framing, lavish color, light, and shadow are quintessential Eggleston. Taken from the neutral vantage point of a restaurant tabletop, the image focuses our gaze on an unlikely cast of characters: a few scattered menus, hot sauce, salt, pepper, and a Winston cigarette lighter. Other details we might also overlook, like the poor paint job or stack of napkins in the background, are hard to ignore. Contrary to the relative emptiness of the photograph, there is an overwhelming amount of visual information to absorb.
In today’s rich media landscape, such moments of stillness are increasingly hard to find. And while our smartphones have turned us all into amateur photographers, sharing everyday observations and experiences on social media, how many of us really sit with an image we find scrolling through our feeds, taking the time to dissect and analyze the story being shared—to wonder about it?
Though this 1957 photograph is by Imogen Cunningham, its subject is Bay Area artist Ruth Asawa (1926–2013). For decades Asawa has been little known beyond the West Coast, and is all too belatedly finding herself rewritten into the history of American art. Rather than concentrate on photographer Cunningham, this post focuses on Asawa, her diaphanous wire sculptures, and her complex identity as a Japanese-American woman artist.
Cunningham’s photograph is a quiet yet evocative image: Asawa sits with her face occluded by the semi-transparent curvature of one of her hanging wire sculptures. She’s surrounded by her four children, ranging from toddler to six years old. Each, including Asawa, is engaged in and absorbed by his or her own activity: reading, playing, observing, drinking, and making. The iconic photograph has often been read in gendered terms, focusing on Asawa’s demonstrated domesticity, femininity, and passivity. Like too many women artists, Asawa has been positioned primarily as a wife and mother—identities that override her identity as an artist, which can and should include these other identities. As curator Helen Molesworth discusses in her recent paper delivered last month at the Smithsonian, “Ruth Asawa: ‘San Francisco Housewife and Mother’,” this image has additional import, positioning art making as a social activity, and Asawa, therefore, as a citizen above all else.
As a child, Asawa would draw and make art while in a World War II internment camp with her Japanese parents. She was not an outside or self-taught artist though, for she attended Black Mountain College and studied for three years and two summers (1946–49) with Josef Albers, Merce Cunningham, and Buckminster Fuller, among others. For Asawa, “Black Mountain gave you the right to do anything you wanted to do. And then you put a label on it afterwards. I think that’s the nice thing about what Black Mountain did for its students. It was like they gave you permission to do anything you wanted to do. And then if it didn’t fit they’d make a category for you. But I think Black Mountain helped make something with weaving and with printmaking, and it gave people the freedom to make something of each category.”¹
Black Mountain was a transformative place and time for Asawa, creatively as well as socially: incorporated into Black Mountain’s utopian environment was an attitude that expanded what art can do for society. Therefore, to be an artist is to be a citizen—engaging actively in the world and making choices alongside others.² Though Cunningham’s photograph captures Asawa in her home, surrounded by her four (of six) children, central to the visual narrative is her artwork, which is inextricable from her role as an artist, wife, mother, and citizen.
– Elisabeth Smith, Collections Coordinator
Image: Ruth Asawa Family and Sculpture, 1957, Imogen Cunningham, Gelatin silver print, 10 3/8 x 10 3/8 in. (26.4 x 26.4 cm), Gift of John H. Hauberg, 89.43
There is something peculiar about the way we attribute the clarity of some photographs to the world itself. I try to reinforce that paradox by making photographs that convince the viewer that those revelations, that order, that potential for meaning, are coming from the world and not the photograph.
– Frank Gohlke, 1979
Aerial View, Tulsa, Oklahoma is a photograph by American photographer Frank Gohlke, taken in 1981. One of 10 artists included in the groundbreaking 1975 exhibition New Topographics: Photographs of a Man-Altered Landscape, Gohlke emerged as an important voice challenging then-prevailing trends in modern photography. Working against romanticized depictions of nature, Gohlke and others in the exhibition produced photographs described by the curator, William Jenkins, as “eschewing entirely the aspects of beauty, emotion and opinion.”
Though Jenkins felt otherwise, one could certainly argue that Gohlke’s Aerial View, Tulsa, Oklahoma is in fact a beautiful and emotive image. Sure, it is far from the Platonic ideal of nature, but the photograph’s composition—with its nested and overlapping arcs, dramatic shadows, and abstract patterning—contains within it a certain beauty. It might not be Ansel Adams’s Half Dome, but it is a photograph that elevates otherwise banal and unattractive subject matter, poetically calling attention to man’s impact on the natural world.
Importantly, Gohlke and his New Topographics cohort reinforced the notion of landscape as a manmade concept. It is a word and idea predicated on a human subject who turns the land into an object and, artistically, into an image. The very definition of the word hinges on an aestheticized understanding of nature. In Aerial View, Tulsa, Oklahoma, Gohlke deftly mobilizes photography to highlight the extent to which the landscape is indeed a manmade image, as well as an object—or resource—to be taken and transformed.
The “new” American topography on offer in 1975’s New Topographics was no longer unspoiled or pristine wilderness, but a country comprised of suburban sprawl, connecting interstates, and parking lots. Whether or not we find that beautiful is up to us to decide. Luckily, this work and others from SAM’s permanent collection are on view in the upcoming New Topographics exhibition on view in the third floor Modern and Contemporary Galleries.
But American workers did contribute at least one lasting legacy to the international movement for working-class liberation…. That holiday is May Day, not Labor Day.
– Jonah Walters, Jacobin, 2015
May Day’s origins go as far back as the ancient world, where it was a festival celebrating spring, but more recently has become a day to honor workers and the labor movement. Although the United States officially observes Labor Day in September, May Day remains a day of international significance whose beginnings can be traced back to Chicago’s Haymarket riot of 1886.
In this lithograph by Benton Spruance circa 1935, titled The People Work: Noon, the artist captures the bustling and dynamic energy of New York City at noon. One of a series of four prints by the artist, each print captures a moment in the day: Morning, Noon, Evening, and Night. In Noon, it as if we see a play in two simultaneous acts. On the bottom level, construction workers take a break from their digging and hammering to eat lunch. Sitting and standing in small groups—surrounded by I-beams, ladders, and an excavator—this moment of respite is at odds with the scene above. With an energy akin to Pike Place Market at lunchtime, the street-level scene is replete with traffic and crowds of people donning suits and dresses. The few individuals not in a rush lean over the railing to view the construction site below.
Widely considered the artist’s most successful and ambitious series, “they [The People Work] present a wealth of scenes and imagery, tied together in space and in simultaneity by various witty and ingenious devices.” Indeed, by dividing Noon into sections, we are privy to the kinds of work—and leisure—that are vital to our daily lives, as well as the imagined identities of the city’s inhabitants.
Though Spruance’s juxtaposition of work and relaxation might appear straightforward, it is important to remember that the universal eight-hour workday is an element of our modern workweek, and a hard-fought battle at that. In fact, it was not until 1938 that Congress passed the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), limiting our workweeks to 40 hours. And while Spruance may not have intentionally broken his series into a structure resembling the slogan of the Eight-Hour Movement–“eight hours for work, eight hours for rest, and eight hours for what you will”—it’s an important reminder this May Day.
– Elisabeth Smith, Collections Coordinator
 Carl Zigrosser, The Artist in America (New York: Knopf, 1942), 87.
Seattle is often cited as a great place to live because of the ease of access to the outdoors. With mountains encroaching on the city’s skyline from every direction and terrains ranging from rain forest to desert in the state of Washington, it’s easy to understand why we’ve got a reputation as a city of landscape painters and nature poets. In Outside Influences, on view in SAM Gallery through April 4, Dan Hawkins, Ryan Molenkamp, Kate Protage, and Chris Sheridan depict both the cityscape as well as our moss and stone backyard—taking their inspiration from everything outside themselves and filtering it through their particular medium to create unique and striking scenes of Seattle and its surroundings. This artwork begs for reflection on the artist life in Seattle and Molenkamp provides.
When I moved to Seattle in 2001 to pursue an art career it didn’t make a lot of sense . . . frankly moving anywhere to pursue an art career didn’t make a lot of sense, but I had the bug, the itch, and I found Seattle to be a welcoming place to grow. The city was full of artists and galleries and a lot of DIY spaces to show art, but it always felt like it had a chip on its’ shoulder. Very little attention was ever given to what was happening here, unless it was in music. But the scene was tight. I remember in particular during the recession years strong unity among artists in this town. If no one was going to buy art at least we could all go out and support each other over 2-buck-chuck and a Rainier. Those days have given way to a more expensive Seattle, one that has priced out a lot of artists and venues. At the same time the new Seattle is full of opportunity for artists to actually make a living at this business. The success of the Seattle Art Fair, as well as the continued success of galleries like SAM Gallery and Linda Hodges Gallery (plug—I show with Linda, too) shows that this city is ready to be more than a forgotten corner of the art world. I’m excited to have a small voice in the conversation that gives me the privilege to pursue a career in the city I love.
Image: Cascade 7, 2018, Ryan Molenkamp, acrylic on panel, 40 x 34 in.
Weems, desiring freedom while poised in the face of a troubling historical ground, beckons the viewer with the question: can you see me, which is not a matter of faculty but one of recognition.
– Adrienne Edwards, “Scenes of the Flesh: Thinking-Feeling Carrie Mae Weem’s Kitchen Table Series Twenty-Five Years On,” 2016
Untitled (Woman standing) is one of 20 carefully staged photographs in the Kitchen Table Series by Carrie Mae Weems. Focusing on the daily life and domestic space of a subject played by the artist, the photographs are often read as autobiographical. While self-representation is no doubt central to this body of work (loosely based on Weems’s own experiences), Untitled (Woman standing)—and the rest of the Kitchen Table Series—is a meditation on the way Black women are represented in American culture more broadly.
Together, the photographic series stages intimate scenes, all taking place around the kitchen table. Captured from the same vantage point, we see a range of quotidian moments: Weems’s character embracing—and being embraced by—her lover, playing cards with her daughters, seeking consolation from friends, and, every once in a while, by herself in moments of sadness, contemplation, happiness, pleasure, and, in this instance, confidence. The series represents the various roles she inhabits as a mother, friend, daughter, romantic partner, and sexual being.
Interested in systems of power and oppression, Weems mobilizes photography to challenge the medium’s assumed authenticity and explore its fictional possibilities, ultimately controlling the narrative she presents to viewers. And while Weems’s character is often the focus, she is never the sole subject of the composition—the evolution of her relationships is a central topic. In addition, curator Adrienne Edwards calls attention to the role the table plays in the series, addressing its presence as an important conceit:
Along with Weems, it [the kitchen table] is a recurring figure in the photographs. The table’s symbolic significance is a direct reference to the structures that shape and reinforce the intersection of the concepts of race, gender, and class that are at the center of Weems’s art.
Throughout the series, the table acts as a witness to the cast of characters in the domestic space. Here, it is as if Weems, pressing down on the table surface, is pushing against its stability and order in an attempt to upend it. Similarly, the hanging lamp can be seen as a metaphor for illumination—shedding light on “fundamental issues concerning American society and culture and black women’s role in it”—while also pointing to another use for such a light: interrogation.
In the words of the artist, “My responsibility as an artist is to work, to sing for my supper, to make art, beautiful and powerful, that adds and reveals; to beautify the mess of a messy world, to heal the sick and feed the helpless; to shout bravely from the rooftops and storm barricaded doors and voice the specificity of our historical moment.”
– Elisabeth Smith, Collections Coordinator
 Adrienne Edwards, “Scenes of the Flesh: Thinking-Feeling Carrie Mae Weems’s Kitchen Table Series Twenty-Five Years On,” in Carrie Mae Weems: Kitchen Table Series (Bologna, Italy: Damiani, 2016), 10-11.
 Edwards, 14.
 Lauren Hansen, “Meet MacArthur Award Winner Carrie Mae Weems,” The Week, http://theweek.com/captured/459535/meet-macarthur-award-winner-carrie-mae-weems.
Kehinde Wiley: A New Republic is on view at long last. As a part of the exhibition, SAM has launched New Republic Events, where SAM and Seattle-area community partners are highlighting events and performances focusing on themes found in Kehinde Wiley’s work, and also, New Republic Community Portrait Project. The Community Portrait Project invites volunteers to have their portraits taken by local photographers, and answer three questions: how do others see you, how do you see yourself and how do you want to be seen? The finished portraits and answers will be featured on the project’s website, as well as in SAM’s Community Corridor.
Local artists/photographers Carina A. del Rosario and Zorn B. Taylor are heading up the project, and we spoke with Carina about her background and the experience of working on the project.
SAM: Hi Carina! Thanks for speaking with us.
del Rosario: No problem!
SAM: Since you asked Community Portrait Project participants three questions, we’ll ask you three too. First up: Tell us a bit about your background and how long you’ve been a photographer.
del Rosario: I was born in the Philippines and immigrated with my family to Los Angeles when I was six. I love the energy and vibrant colors of urban life I grew up around, which in part led to my interest in street photography. When I moved here as a kid, I was curious about all the life going on around me but I was super shy. It may have been because I wasn’t confident with my English at the time. Over time, I really developed my English language skills in writing and speaking – though at the expense of my first language – but that helped bolster my confidence. I eventually got interested in journalism since it gave me an excuse to talk to strangers, to ask questions and tell stories. But I always loved how images and stories went together, whether in newspapers or in films. At Santa Clara University, where I graduated with a BA in Communication, I worked on the student newspaper and my friends there taught me photography and printing in the darkroom.
After a number of years writing, I decided to take up photography again and other visual arts classes because I wanted to make my writing more visual, more sensory. Eventually, I became more and more interested in the ability of photography and other visual art forms to tell a story that can be much more open to interpretation—that can hold more complexity and ambiguity. I’ve been working as a photographer and visual artist for about 12 years.
SAM: Very cool. We’re glad you’re bringing your unique experience to the Community Portrait Project. Okay, next question: What’s your favorite thing about being a photographer?
del Rosario: Similar to being a journalist, being a photographer gives you an excuse or a tool for following your curiosity. It can certainly open doors to connecting with strangers. It can also shut doors if one doesn’t approach others with respect and openness. One of my early photography instructors (Raul Touzon on National Geographic) told me, “Give as much as you get. Be in the moment with people and the images will come.” I definitely get a charge when I can connect with people on a human level and that emerges in the photos.
SAM: What excellent advice. Okay, last question: How did you get involved with the Community Portrait Project, and what has the experience been like so far?
del Rosario: Regan Pro (SAM’s Kayla Skinner Deputy Director for Education and Public Programs) contacted me about the Community Portrait Project and I jumped on it. I’m a teaching artist for SAM, so Regan and I have worked together for a few years. She also knows my work as an artist, particularly my Passport Series, which is a photo-based, interactive project that addresses identity, documentation, and discrimination. Through this project, I’ve worked with people from all walks of life to bust out of the boxes we all get squeezed into and present ourselves more holistically. Regan knew this would be akin to Kehinde Wiley’s approach for empowering “sitters” to determine how they want to be seen.
The experience working on the Community Portrait Project has been really uplifting and grounding at the same time. First, I love any excuse to work with Zorn. We have taught together and supported each other’s work for a few years, and I really appreciate the love and openness he brings into the work.
We photographed people from various ages and life experiences—a total of 40 people over three sessions. It’s hard to narrow down which ones were the most memorable stories because so many of them opened up in really interesting ways. One woman talked about how normally she’s really shy and closed in and that this was her challenge to herself. By participating in this project, she’s opening up to the world. I could totally relate to this since I remember making a similar decision when I was younger. There was another woman who seemed so deeply sad. She’s in a struggle to reclaim her sense of self, her own power, her happiness. I asked her to try to go back to a time when she felt whole and happy. To witness those emotions move through her, from sorrow to joy in a seconds, was an incredible honor.
SAM: Wow. It sounds like you had many incredibly experiences working on the Community Portrait Project, and essentially got to peek into the inner lives and thoughts of strangers. Thanks for sharing with us, for being a part of the Project!
del Rosario: Thank you!
You can participate in the Community Portrait Project, too. Upcoming drop-in photo sessions will be held at SAM on Wednesday, March 3 and on Thursday, April 7. In the meantime, be sure to check out Kehinde Wiley: A New Republic, on view now.
Drops of Rain, Clarence H. White (American, 1871-1925), ca. 1903, National Gallery of Australia
It’s raining again. I stare as rivulets of water course down the window panes of my room, obscuring the view outside. Beyond my window, the passing cars blur together alongside the chairs that decorate my lawn. Everything assumes a greyish cast. “Welcome to Seattle,” people say. Prior to moving to here, I had never encountered a group of people so fixated on the weather, and I’ve lived in Cleveland where it is not only grey but also claims ownership of “The Lake Effect,” which encompasses all manner of atmospheric sins.
Yet as I approach my second year of living in Seattle, I too, have become consumed by thoughts of the dreary weather – so consumed by these thoughts that I seem to have neglected my blog – and the ever-present hope that sun is just around the corner. However, it was the weather that inadvertently led me to the exhibition Camera Work: Process & Image held at SAM from November 26, 1985 to February 2, 1986and focused on the early pioneers of photography including Julia Margaret Cameron, Edward Steichen, Clarence H. White, Paul Strand, Alfred Langdon Coburn, and Alfred Stieglitz.
Cover of Camera Work, Issue No 2, April 190, published by Alfred Stieglitz and designed by Edward Steichen.
Determined to elevate both photography and the photogravure to the status of fine art, Stieglitz produced a magazine whose primary focus was photography. As a member of the New York Camera Club, Stieglitz spearheaded the production of a quarterly journal – called Camera Notes – dedicated to both high quality photography and articles surrounding the art form. Yet Camera Notes was merely the beginning, for in 1902 – a mere five years later – Stieglitz left the Camera Club and started his own quarterly, Camera Work, in which he strove to establish a journal that was in and of itself a work of art. From 1903 to 1917, Stieglitz edited and published a total of fifty editions of Camera Work, through which he championed photography as a form of art instead of a mechanical process that simply documented reality. He pushed photographers to take an active role in the editing process of photogravure production – a print of the photographic image that emphasized deep shadows and a rich textural quality – in which the photo negatives are transformed into photo positives and transferred onto a printing plate that is then etched and printed. Stieglitz strove to maintain high quality photogravures that he felt could be viewed as original prints that had their own artistic value. Through this process, photographers in Stieglitz’s circle were able to participate in the production of the photogravures, which instigated a collaboration between the artist’s intent and the hand that created the final product.
Exhibition media file – including exhibition installation views and transparencies and prints of checklist images – from Camera Work: Process & Image and the exhibition catalogue. Photo: Kaley Ellis.
This examination of Stieglitz’s Camera Work and the photographers involved in that publication act as the focal points of the 1985 exhibition at SAM. Of the works displayed, Clarence H. White’s Drops of Rain, Adolf de Meyer’s Still Life, Hugo Henneberg’s Villa Falconieri, and Alfred Stieglitz’s Spring Showers, New York are the works I find the most compelling. Water is prominently featured in all these works, whether it takes the form of rain, a glass of water, or a shimmering river. The water either distorts and obscures aspects of the work or is itself distorted. Far from being a direct representation of fact, the water provides a medium through which the artistic intent becomes clear. The fact that it is raining outside is not the point of the image in White’s Rain Drops; instead, the simplicity, the lighting, and contrast between the smoothness of the glass ball compared to the pattern of rain drops on the window pane combine to make this work beautifully compelling. The emotional response that these images evoke transcends time and, like other forms of art, is subjective.
Today – despite rapid advances in technology and the advent of the digital camera – artists such as Stieglitz, White, and Cameron remain relevant. New lens are engineered, such as the lensbaby, to create a blurring effect or to obscure the background, while plastic cameras allow photographers to further experiment with light and shadows and finally Photoshop and the Instagram app offer the opportunity to enhance or manipulate an image with the click of a button. Despite these developments, photographers are still creating images that favor the deep shadows, blurred lines, and sometimes dreamlike quality that continues to reference the past and the art of Stieglitz’s circle that he tirelessly perfected for publication in Camera Work.
Last week we asked, “What does ‘green’ mean to you?” and offered two tickets to Beauty & Bounty to the photographer behind our favorite photo.
SAM staff member Liz Stone selected the winner. Liz is a digital media assistant and a member of the SAM Goes Green Team. Of the winning entry she said, “I like this photo for its simple act of gratitude. Green means all of the things people posted here and more but I found that in almost all of the submissions this week there was a sentiment of gratitude in them. Whether it was the appreciation of a backyard wonderland, or a velvety forest full of life, to the recognition of all the possibilities Earth provides―it never hurts to take a moment―and a breath―and thank the Earth for its bounty.”
Congratulations to Atsuko Nagakura! She was the photographer behind our favorite “green” Beauty Shot. There were many great pictures to choose from. Click here to see the complete album.
Beauty & Bounty and Reclaimed close September 11 so this week’s Beauty Shot Fridays question is our final one. We want to know: How has your landscape changed?
Last week’s Beauty Shot Fridays question was: Capture a favorite memory from your experiences in the outdoors. Many of the photos pertained to family, friends, and exploration. I’ve selected a few images that I found particularly striking.