Obamas Preview New Photography Exhibition at the Corcoran, "Shadows of History"

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  • January 31, 2012

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Photographer unknown, “Ram”, Bat’y ‘A’ 2d U.S. Cord Artl’y, Lt.”, 1865. Albumen silver print, 5 ¼ x 7 ¼ in. Collection of Julia J. Norrell.

This Saturday, February 4, the Corcoran Gallery of Art and College of Art + Design will open Shadows of History: Photographs of the Civil War from the Collection of Julia J. Norrell and Tim Hetherington: Sleeping Soldiers. The First Family got a sneak peek of Shadows of History yesterday during an official visit

Corcoran Gallery of Art's Shadows of History: Photographs of the Civil War from the Collection of Julia J. Norrell (February 4–May 6) explores how photography was used to document the Civil War. The exhibition’s 36 works include early tintype, ambrotype, and cartes-de-visite portraits, rare images of African American regiments, and an installation by contemporary artist Whitfield Lovell.

Shadows of History is organized by Philip Brookman, Chief Curator and Head of Research at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, and Kaitlin Booher, assistant curator of photography and media arts, and drawn primarily from the collection of Washington collector Julia “Judy” Norrell.

The American Civil War, one of the first conflicts to be extensively documented by photography, for the first time brought home powerful images of human devastation and the destructive impact of war. The photographs in Shadows of History highlight important themes and subject matter in Civil War photography, including the impact of war on the landscape and on people, by some of the most prominent photographers of the day. Images by George Barnard, Issac H. Bonsall, Matthew Brady, Alexander Gardner, James F. Gibson, Frederick F. Gutekunst, Timothy H. O’Sullivan, Andrew J. Russell, D. B. Woodbury, and others, are included. One highlight of the show is an unusual sequence depicting African American soldiers drilling by an unknown photographer.


“Photograph continues to shape our understanding of the Civil War,” said Brookman. “Judy’s collection,
informed by her complicated feelings about the South and its history, reminds us of old wounds, and of those that remain to be healed.”

An installation by American artist Whitfield Lovell,is included in the exhibition. Created in 2001,
Visitation: The Richmond Project: Battleground, features a life-size portrait of an African American soldier drawn on wooden planks, with objects evoking the Civil War.

Tim Hetherington, Afghanistan, Korengal Valley, Kunar Province, Sterling Jones practices his golf swing while at the main KOP [Korengal Outpost] firebase in the valley. Soldiers spend about two weeks at the Restrepo outpost before coming back to the main KOP base, where they can get a hot shower and call their family., April 2008. Chromogenic (Lightjet) digital print. Courtesy Estate of Tim Hetherington. © Tim Hetherington, Magnum Photos

Concurrent to Shadows of History, the Corcoran will open Tim Hetherington: Sleeping Soldiers (February 4–May 6), a group of photographs and video depicting American soldiers in northeastern Afghanistan. For the three-screen video installation Sleeping Soldiers (2010), Hetherington superimposed footage of conflict over still images of soldiers sleeping, creating a nightmarish narrative that runs on a continuous loop. Opening on the heels of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, Shadows of History and Tim Hetherington: Sleeping Soldiers explore the ways in which war is documented, remembered, and lived.

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