While most people look to Washington, D.C., for the political show, it’s also a town where museum shows take center stage. This spring, we turn to the nation’s capital for a look at what’s happening in the world of photography, from the origins of studio photography to the photographer who helped define how we viewed African art and culture during the last century. From the corridors of power to museum corridors, it’s the place to be.
Before selfies and studio headshots, a generation of photographers defined studio photography. Brothers Charles R. Meade and Henry W.M. Meade belonged to this group, along with such luminaries as Mathew Brady. A collection of the Meade Brothers’ daguerreotypes forms the basis of Meade Brothers: Pioneers in American Photography, through June 1; it may be the first exhibition that focuses on the 19th-century American photographers, and it includes loans of the Meade Brothers’ objects from both public and private collections, including a large-format daguerreotype of Sam Houston and two daguerreotypes of Louis Daguerre.
While there, stop by the American Cool exhibition, through September 7. Featuring images of such iconic figures as Johnny Depp, Jay-Z, and Miles Davis, captured by photographers from Henri Cartier-Bresson to Richard Avedon, the photographs — mesmerizing and enticing — capture what we already know instinctively about cool: You may be able to catch it on film, but you can’t define it — and you can’t get it if you don’t have it.
Beyond Bollywood: Indian Americans Shape the Nation features music, videos, artifacts, and first-person narratives as well as photographs; it documents the impact of Indian Americans on the American landscape. From their arrival in the early 1900s to their achievements and daily lives; from the ways in which they hold on to their own culture to the immersion of the younger generation in contemporary culture, the exhibition, which runs though August 16, 2015, offers a probing look at a diverse community that has played a major role in the shifting face of this country.
The way we view African art and cultures was, to a great extent, defined by the portraits of one photographer in the 20th century — Life magazine’s Eliot Elisofon. In addition to pioneering color photography in the 1950s, he traveled abroad extensively, producing a series of extraordinary images that ranged from scenes of daily life in Africa to ceremonies and works of art. On view though August 24, Africa ReViewed: The Photographic Legacy of Eliot Elisofon explores the relationship between his art collection and archives (founded in 1973) at the museum. The exhibition features work from Elisofon’s personal collection, including experimental studio photography, early black-and-white images, and even TV programs.
In the postwar years in America, Garry Winogrand traveled across America documenting both the excitement and the desperation that coursed through the nation. Winogrand largely captured the middle class, from New York City’s urban landscape to the Texas State Fair. Through June 8, the exhibition Garry Winogrand includes many firsts: It showcases photographs that have never before been published or shown (approximately one third of what is on view); and more than 60 of the photographs were printed specifically for this exhibition and shown to the public for the first time.
That’s a Wrap:
The Corcoran in the News
After this summer, it looks like the Corcoran — one of the oldest museums in the country, and the first in the capital — may be no more. A combination of negative publicity surrounding the cancellation of an exhibition; a failed plan to expand; a plan to move the collection out of D.C. entirely — as well as a host of other issues — has caused the trustees to vote to turn over the building as well as the school to George Washington University; the National Gallery will take over the artwork. While the Corcoran’s collection will still be on view, its demise heralds the end of an era. Founded in 1869, the Corcoran deserved a longer life — and a less ignominious end.