Another Way of Telling: Women Photographers from the Collection of Philadelphia Museum of Art

Window, Wisconsin.  From the series Songs of the Sea, by Ruth Thorne-Thomsen, American, born 1943.
Window, Wisconsin. From the series Songs of the Sea, by Ruth Thorne-Thomsen, American, born 1943.
(Courtesy Schmidt-Dean Gallery, Philadelphia PA and the artist. Philadelphia Museum of Art)

This spring, the Philadelphia Museum of Art will offer visitors a new look at photographs by women in the collection. Another Way of Telling (April 8 to July 16) will present a wide-ranging selection of black-and-white prints by nineteenth- and twentieth-century photographers such as Berenice Abbott, Diane Arbus, Anne Brigman, Julia Margaret Cameron, and Imogen Cunningham, as well as contemporary works in color by Kelli Connell, Ann Parker, and Elaine Stocki. This exhibition features many photographs that have never been shown at the Museum, including more than twenty new additions to the collection.

Timothy Rub, the George D. Widener Director and CEO stated: “Since our photography collection was founded in 1968 by an adventurous Philadelphian, Dorothy Norman – whose gift to the Museum included a core group of photographs by women – it has grown to embrace the entire history of photography. This timely exhibition highlights the unique contributions of female photographers and celebrates the ways in which they have captured lived experience.”

The exhibition will illuminate the myriad ways that women have explored ideas about individual identity in and out of the portrait studio, interrogated female roles in the domestic sphere, and disrupted perceptions of the world through street photography. From Hazel Kingsbury Strand’s documentary photographs that she made while on assignment in France with the Red Cross during World War II, to Gertrude Käsebier’s portraits of her family that challenged prevailing notions of femininity and domesticity, the presentation shows the diverse and complex ways that women have understood, seen, and recorded the world around them.

Highlights of Another Way of Telling include two small but commanding portraits of the photographer Amelia C. Van Buren, which have long been attributed to the painter Thomas Eakins. Research suggests that at least one of the photographs was taken by the sitter herself, lending a new level of understanding to these pictures. Also of note is Barbara Crane’s captivating series, People of the North Portal (1970-1). Positioning her camera on the front steps of Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry, she chronicled the seemingly ordinary event of people passing through its front doors. Her choice to delimit her series to a single doorway stands in stark contrast to the more roving, spontaneous style of street photography employed by her male contemporaries.

Of special interest are the great number of photographs on view that have never before been exhibited here, including an outstanding and rare vintage portrait by Diane Arbus; a striking color photograph of Jean Cocteau by Gisèle Freund; studio work by the pioneering Austrian-born photographer Trude Fleischmann; and several fine modernist views of Alfred Stieglitz’s gallery, An American Place, by Dorothy Norman. New acquisitions on view in the exhibition include work by Sarah Charlesworth, Barbara Crane, Maya Deren, Zanele Muholi, Ming Smith, and Ruth Thorne-Thomsen.

Amanda Bock, The Lynne and Harold Honickman Assistant Curator of Photographs, said: “Another Way of Telling aims to surprise visitors with the photography collection’s hidden strengths and new acquisitions. It includes exceptional and rare photographs by a wide range of accomplished artists, underscoring the amazing breadth and depth of our collection. Historically, women have not been fairly represented in photography collections at major art museums. In Philadelphia, our efforts to right that imbalance have intensified in recent decades. This show is a celebration of where our collection began, and of our continued commitment to amplify the voices of women.”

 
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