“It’s not what you look at that matters—
it’s what you see.” –Henry David Thoreau
Use Thoreau’s words as a starting point for a summer journey of exploration. Take time to search out the offbeat, the unknown, and the unexpected. With that in mind, we offer up a photography-themed road trip that crisscrosses the country to look at societies and museums that may not have been on your list. These venues offer unique collections that highlight a part of this country and a glimpse of other lives lived. So head off the beaten path, because sometimes going off-road is where you have all the fun.
The Museum of America and the Sea
Mystic, CT mysticseaport.org
When the weather heats up, it’s time to head to the water. With over 1.3 million photographs, Mystic Seaport is said to hold the single largest collection of maritime photography in the world. These historic images cover American commercial and recreational maritime activity, from New England shipbuilding to Arctic exploration. Check out onboard, shipyard and waterfront scenes, portraits of shipmasters and other mariners, and Inuit life and culture from 1840 to the present.
Vermont Historical Society
Barre, VT vermonthistory.org
If your travels take you to New England, stop by the Vermont Heritage Galleries which showcase a number of special exhibitions. In Service and Sacrifice: Vermont’s Civil War Generation, stunning photographs by Civil War photographer George Houghton are featured. The Emergence of the Granite City: Barre 1880-1940 offers up a look at intimate photographs that reflect a city whose character was changing due to immigration from Canada, Scotland, Italy, and many other European countries.
Wisconsin Historical Society
HH Bennett Studio
Madison, WI wisconsinhistory.org
Henry Hamilton Bennett opened his Wisconsin photography studio in 1865, and it’s still in operation today. Many people, in fact, consider it to be the oldest operating photography studio in the U.S. In addition to being a good businessman, Bennett was also a fine landscape photographer. You can see the different sides of his persona—the photographer and the photo expert—in this museum, which features photographs, glass-plate negatives, cameras, and more.
Oregon Historical Society
Portland, OR ohs.org
The advent of technology has allowed the old-fashioned art of storytelling to have a new voice, as ways to archive and preserve histories from photographs to digital recordings become more commonplace. Using this technology, the exhibition Oregon Voices allows visitors to see the ways in which various issues shaped the state of Oregon from 1950 forward—and to leave their own comments and stories for others to see.
Minnesota Historical Society
St. Paul, MN minnesotahistorycenter.org
The Civil War had a dramatic effect on Minnesota. Although the war was not fought on Minnesota soil, it was the first state to respond to President Lincoln’s request for volunteer regiments. The Society maintains a rich collection of primary source materials (government records, manuscripts, photography) and secondary resources relating to the war. In addition, portraits that capture the faces of Minnesotans and landscape views that depict the state’s varied geography are an essential part of the collections.
And if your travels don’t find you near any of these venues, in the interest of full disclosure, many of these treasures can be viewed at home, online.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Through September 2, 2013
More than 200 photographs of the American Civil War have been brought together for this exhibition, curated by Jeff L. Rosenheim, which examines the evolving role of the camera during the nation’s bloodiest war. The war tested not only the nation’s commitments to its founding principles, but also served as a breakthrough in photographic history and documentation; it shows images from the beginning to the end of the four-year war (1861-65), in which 750,000 lives were lost. The exhibition includes images from the Met’s holdings, as well as important loans from public and private collections. While you’re there, check out two related exhibitions: The Civil War and American Art, a selection of prints with Civil War themes by such artists as Winslow Homer and Timothy H. O’Sullivan; additional works of art with related themes are on view in The American Wing.
International Center of Photography
Through September 8, 2013
A Different Kind of Order focuses on artworks created by 28 emerging and established international artists whose works speak to and illuminate the new visual and social territory in which image-making operates today. This global survey employs photography, film, video, and interactive media. Starting from the premise that most photography is now produced, processed, and distributed in digital form, the exhibition explores the sometimes unanticipated consequences of this shift. This exhibition fills the ICP’s entire gallery space as well as the exterior windows, as it focuses on artworks created in our current moment of widespread economic, social, and political insecurity. A Different Kind of Order was organized by Kristen Lubben, Christopher Phillips, Carol Squiers, and Joanna Lehan.