By Sharon Bigot
This show, located in the 3rd Floor Harrison Photography Gallery, was curated by David Little. It is a wonderful study in contrast: portraits of mostly famous people taken from the front and from behind. These people are an assortment of politicians, athletes, artists, and actors, along with an occasional scientist, magician or author. One particularly poignant photo shows two young African-American girls on their way to their segregated school.
Both well-known and unknown photographers are represented. The back perspective photos come from collector Howard Weiner and are a recent addition to Mia’s photography collection; they are all placed on gallery walls painted white. The frontal portraits come from Mia’s permanent collection; they are placed on walls painted black. All the photographs have white frames. Most of the photographs themselves are black and white, but there are color portraits scattered among them. The two largest color portraits are of Minnesota Twins baseball players. Remember Curator Little’s “Sports Photography Exhibit”?
In the exhibit area with black walls there is a separate “room” containing some fabulous, large, frontal portraits by photographer, Richard Avedon. Each photo is a first edition print of a limited edition run (only thirty-five prints per photograph) and each is labeled “Minneapolis Folio”. This group of 11 portraits was published in conjunction with Richard Avedon’s retrospective exhibition at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts in the summer of 1970. The show, organized by Ted Hartwell, was Avedon’s first major museum exhibition, signaling his entrance into the art world. It preceded the formal establishment, in 1972, of Mia’s Department of Photography. In 1981, when Hartwell arranged to purchase the photographs of the “Minneapolis Folio” directly from Avedon, he was surprised and delighted to discover that Avedon had saved the first edition prints specifically for Mia. *
Photography was officially invented in 1839. By the end of the 1850s, interest in portraiture began to grow. Like today, many people craved portraits of themselves and their loved ones. However, the level of curiosity was especially great when it came to images of famous people. Portraits were sold individually or in bulk. Categories of bulk photographs included political leaders, royalty, authors, philosophers, artists, singers and actors. Matthew Brady took a photograph of Abraham Lincoln the night before his speech at the Cooper Union (February 22, 1860). Eventually, several hundred thousand copies of that same photo were printed and used in President Lincoln’s re-election campaign. Another noteworthy early use of photographs was a Paris studio’s “revolving” self-portrait: 12 photos starting and ending with a straight shot of the client’s back and including side and frontal views (circa 1865). **
Check out this exhibit and see how well you can match the name with the portrait! Don’t miss the News Flashes related to the Olympics and Civil Rights Movement. Do you agree with David Little that Marilyn Monroe may well be the most famous person pictured in this show?
* Masterpiece Photographs from the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, the Curatorial Legacy of Carroll T. Hartwell, 2008.
** A New History of Photography, edited by Michel Frizot, 1998.
By Sharon Bigot