The National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) will unveil its first exhibition of more than 150 photographs and related objects representing the black experience in the U.S. on Friday, May 5.
Complementing the museum’s popular series of photography books, the “More Than a Picture” exhibit encourages visitors to explore the ways photographs reflect important moments in history and memory.
“The power of photographs is not only the ability to depict events but to bring human scale to those experiences,” said Lonnie G. Bunch III, the museum director. “Photography plays an important role in constructing memory. Images act not only as repositories of memory but also as stimulants and beacons for remembering.”
The photography showcases a visual account of key historical events, cultural touchstones, private and communal moments to illuminate African-American life.
From the eras of slavery and Jim Crow to the Black Lives Matter movement of today, “More Than a Picture” presents a range of American experiences that look beyond the surface to see the photographs’ significance to history and cultural meaning, according to the museum.
Iconic portraits of Frederick Douglass, W.E.B. Du Bois, Queen Latifah and Grace Jones will be seen alongside historical and recognizable images from the civil rights movement, Hurricane Katrina and the uprisings in Ferguson, Missouri, and Baltimore.
The display features a selection of portraits of famous and unknown people who empowered themselves to redefine history, groups that shared bonds that defined their sense of community, and examples of personal expressions that also reflect culture and identity.
The images are from the museum’s large and growing photography collection, an essential part of its holdings.
From 19th-century daguerreotypes to contemporary digital prints, the museum’s photography collection of more than 25,000 images includes photographs as varied as studio portraits, art photography and family portraits, as well as prints by notable photojournalists.
In addition to images produced by world-renowned photographers, the collection also includes photography by lesser-known image makers who documented the contributions, struggles, triumphs and everyday lives of African-Americans.
This special exhibition includes works by established and emerging photographers from the 19th century to present-day, including Cornelius Battey, P.H. Polk, Ernest Withers, Ming Smith, Louis Draper, Wayne Miller, Sheila Pree Bright and Zun Lee.
Other notable image makers include such photographers as John White, the two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist, Camilo Vergara, recipient of the MacArthur Fellowship, Berlin Prize and National Humanities Medal, and Devin Allen, who recently received the inaugural fellowship from the Gordon Parks Foundation.