Four Exhibits, Hundreds of Photographs, Limitless Conversations

When viewing the photographs in the series Yemen: Days of Reckoning (2012) by Stephanie Sinclair, one is confronted with a number of paradoxes that arise upon continued reflection.

The photograph of a lieutenant in an elite female counterterrorism unit patrolling women’s barracks, for examplepart of the Women of Vision exhibitionbelies its somewhat simple composition to present dualities small and large. The visual juxtaposition of pink walls and drapery with the intricate camouflage of battle fatigues. The quiet stillness of the scene with the real possibility of gunfire or confrontation. The unsettling reality of traditional gender roles within progressive and conservative societies.

Everyone recognizes real life in photography, and that’s the entry point for potential art lovers. Unlike painting or sculpture, which can tread into abstraction or symbolism, photography often presents viewers with a moment in life that is grounded in reality and can affect them viscerally.

Thanks to social media and a visual–centric Internet culture, we are bombarded with hundreds of photographs every day and thousands every week. While some photos may elicit comments, truly powerful images can evoke genuine feelings and spark meaningful conversations.

That’s the reason we are celebrating photographic fine art with our Year of Photography. We will present powerful images that take you from the savannahs of Botswana to the war–torn streets of Libya and Afghanistan. They will elevate the beauty of athletic movement and attest to mankind’s profound effect on our Earth. We are presenting an assortment of exhibitions intended to create dialogues that generate discussion and foster understanding.

“Photography is a powerful way to explore contemporary issues, and the Allentown Art Museum is a catalyst for conversations. These exhibitions provide an opportunity for people to consider complex topics,” says Elaine Mehalakes, vice president of curatorial affairs at the Museum.

She calls the appeal of photography “universal.”

“The immediacy of photography means it is an art form for everyone,” says Mehalakes.

In the skilled hands and creative minds of true artists, photography transcends today’s point–and–shoot culture and continues to be recognized as fine art.

The Museum launched its Year of Photography in November with New Geography: Photographs by Marilyn Bridges. Three more exhibitions—Women of Vision: National Geographic Photographers on Assignment; Who Shot Sports: A Photographic History, 1843 to the Present; and The Soviet Lens: Photography by Dmitri Baltermants and Mark Markov–Grinberg—comprise an entire year of outstanding photography.

The exhibitions that bookend the year draw from the Museum’s collection of photographs selected by Claire McRee, the Museum’s assistant curator. Sandwiched between those shows, the National Geographic Society is lending an exhibition of work by women photojournalists for the magazine National Geographic, and the Brooklyn Museum is providing Who Shot Sports.

New Geography: Photographs by Marilyn Bridges

highlights the mystery of the prehistoric landscapes that lured Bridges into the field of fine–art photography. Comparing the physical mark people made on landscapes years ago to the marks we make today shows us how human beings change our physical world.

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Women of Vision

celebrates 11 National Geographic women photographers who excel in a field still dominated by men.

“You can’t help but think about these women’s lives and what they have risked to tell stories,” Mehalakes says. “The images are incredibly moving.”

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Who Shot Sports

will challenge some viewers’ beliefs by presenting sports photographs as fine art. Taken as a whole, the photos focus our attention not only on the incredible physical feat on display—whether a grainy black–and–white of football legend Johnny Unitas going deep or a high–res color shot of tennis pro Serena Williams poised in midair as she darts toward the ball—but also on the talent of the photographers who create these compelling images.

This Exhibition is organized by the Brooklyn Museum and curated by Gail Buckland, Benjamin Menschel Distinguished Visiting Professor at The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art.

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The Soviet Lens focuses

on the way Russian photojournalists Dmitri Baltermants and Mark Markov-Grinberg depicted their world. Including images dating from the 1930s to the 1970s, this exhibition explores the relationship between images and politics. The individual photos were selected, curator McRee says, to “investigate the interplay between ideal and reality in Soviet media.”

“Our Year of Photography is a way for viewers to gain perspective on the world and for us to understand our own lives,” Mehalakes says. “This diverse selection of exhibitions can stimulate discussions on topics ranging from gender equality to our health care system to human rights. That’s the true power of art—and photography.”

 

 

Stephanie Sinclair: A lieutenant in an elite female counterterrorism unit patrols the women’s barracks, Yemen: Days of Reckoning, 2012. From the exhibition Women of Vision: National Geographic Photographers on Assignment, organized and traveled by the National Geographic Society.
Featured image on homepage: LYNSEY ADDARIO
Moviegoers thrill to shaking seats and wind machines during a 3-D film at a theater closed during the war.