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 a Year of Photography. From the savannahs of Botswana to the war-torn streets of Libya and Afghanistan, and from the beauty of athletic movement to mankind’s profound effect on our Earth, we are presenting an assortment of exhibitions intended to generate discussion and foster understanding.

Next up in our Year of Photography is our fall exhibition The Soviet Lens (September 9, 2018-January 6, 2019), which 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 will explore the relationship between images and politics.

“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 2017 with New Geography: Photographs by Marilyn Bridges. Three more exhibitions—Women of Vision, Who Shot Sports and The Soviet Lens—comprise an entire year of outstanding photography.

“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 healthcare system to human rights. That’s the true power of art—and photography.”

The three other exhibitions the Museum has presented during our Year of Photography:

Who Shot Sports (May 6-July 29, 2018) challenges 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 feats 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.

Women of Vision (January 28, 2017-April 8, 2018) celebrated 11 National Geographic women photographers who excel in a field still dominated by men. “You couldn’t help but think about these women’s lives and what they risked to tell stories,” Mehalakes says. “The images were incredibly moving.”

New Geography: Photographs by Marilyn Bridges (November 22, 2017-April 29, 2018) highlighted 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.

Featured image: Daniel Rodrigues (Portuguese, born France 1987). Football in Guinea Bissau, March 3, 2012, printed 2016. Inkjet print. Courtesy of the artist. From Who Shot Sports: A Photographic History, 1843 to the Present, organized by the Brooklyn Museum.