By Ana Martinez-Ortiz
For decades, photographers have used their cameras and their skills to capture the essence of the human spirit. It’s through these tangible memories, that people can get a sense of what was happening at that particular moment.
Back in August of this year, the Milwaukee Art Museum (MAM) announced its new exhibition, Family Pictures, which would display the work of black photographers. As mentioned in an article by the Milwaukee Courier back in August, the artists whose works are portrayed in the exhibition were all inspired by Ray DeCarava.
DeCarava became known for his work which captured the Harlem Renaissance. His photos expertly displayed the relationships among family and community members during that time. The images received high praise and DeCarava became known for his ability to capture the simplicity of a moment and to find the beauty within it. Artists like LaToya Ruby Frazier and Deana Lawson were among some of the artists featured in Family Pictures.
Since opening the exhibition in September, Family Pictures has had its fair share of visitors. Josh Depenbrok, a spokesperson for MAM, said so far the reaction has been positive.
“The reactions have been really strong [and] people really engage with the photos,” he said.
Depenbrok said that the exhibition does a wonderful job of displaying a wide range of photos. Some of them come from the 50s and 60s and some are from present day. In addition, not all the works available for viewing are photography.
It’s a multimedia exhibition, Depenbrok said. Some pieces are stationary photographs whereas others are part of a slideshow. Other pieces are videos. What makes this exhibition so unique is that it displays more traditional works and more contemporary or modern works too.
Depenbrok noted how inspiring some of the pieces were, especially when it came to their quality or the way photographers used light and shadow to take a photo. The exhibition forces the viewer to look at photography in a different way, he said. And it may even influence the way people capture photos on their own.
He hopes when people leave the exhibition that they feel inspired. He also wants to people recognize and appreciate the narrative of the pieces and how the artist captured the complexity of the subject’s narratives and lives.
The exhibition, which will remain at MAM until Jan. 2019, is essential to a city like Milwaukee. Considered on the most segregated cities in the nation, Milwaukee’s media outlets have often been criticized for portraying the black community in a negative or stereotypical light. This exhibition not only portrays African-American communities positiviley, but the photos are all taken by black photographers.
Lisa Sutcliffe, the Herzfeld Curator of Photography and Media Arts, said Milwaukee’s segregation is one of the reasons this exhibition is so important for the city, because it’s challenging the narrative.
“Museums have a responsibility to show diverse histories, viewpoints, and narratives that accurately reflect the communities we serve,” Sutcliffe said.
These photos and multimedia pieces tell stories of the history of race in the United States and of the human condition, she said. Stufcliffe added, the flashes of light captured throughout this exhibition are of everyday, intimate and personal moments.
“Exhibitions such as this one not only foster conversations relevant to African American communities but also encourage dialogue across the city,” she said.
Although, the exhibition is impressive and essential to a city like Milwaukee not all the pieces will be able to stay. However, it is possible that some of the pieces will become part of the permanent collection. Sutcliffe said that one of MAM’s top priorities is to broaden and diversify the permanent collection with pieces by women and people of color.
The exhibition will be on display until Jan. 20, 2019. To learn more about tickets visit mam.org.