Through the Lens

New photography installations tell the stories of people and places, past and present

 

By Jen Sudul Edwards, PhD, Chief Curator & Curator of Contemporary Art

Over the last year, the Mint has been exposing its members to more photography, both in the galleries and online. On March 22, 2020—as it happened, one day before the museum closed to the public due to Covid-19—the Mint installed a mid-career survey of Charlotte photographer Linda Foard Roberts only a few weeks before she was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship. Extended through December 2021, the exhibition Responsibilities in Representing explores eight series from Foard Roberts’s career, each showcasing a different relationship between an image maker and her subject. Some are loved ones—friends after cancer diagnoses, her children as they grew into their own—captured at pivotal moments when they found steel in their fragile mortality. Some are invisible traces, as in her most recent series Lament, a song of sorrow for those not heard, which explores Southern spaces that both marked racial divisions and allowed for liberation of the enslaved. When she photographs the natural world—mist on a lake, an aged oak—the results embody the human history of those spaces, allowing viewers to transcend the limitations of the physical world.

Image: Linda F. Roberts (American, 1961–). Words in Flight, 2015, archival pigment print. Gift of the Artist. 2015.35.3

Although her images have an ethereal quality, due in part to the large-format camera and cracked 19th-century lenses that Foard Roberts often uses, they are also sober reminders of the cycle of life and continuous history in which we all live. These dynamics are so vivid in the work because Foard Roberts feels them herself. In her book Passages, Foard Roberts writes, “Southern landscapes are inherently scarred and stained by an oppressive past. It is difficult to reflect on Southern land without the shadow of sadness from our history; and I can’t escape that my roots are dusted with these injustices. This work is driven by a longing to connect with this land and for a miraculous healing from its past.”

Carol Guzy. People celebrating on the dismantled Berlin Wall, November 9, 1989. © 1989, Carol Guzy/The Washington Post
Carol Guzy. People celebrating on the dismantled Berlin Wall, November 9, 1989. © 1989, Carol Guzy/The Washington Post

Work from Foard Roberts Lament series is also included in the W|ALLS: Defend, Divide, and the Divine exhibition that is on view at Mint Museum Uptown. W|ALLS was originally scheduled to open in May 2020 but was postponed due to the pandemic. Shipping crates containing much of the show were delayed, and the Annenberg Space for Photography— the originator of the show—was forced to permanently close its doors after 10 years of visionary shows, and gifted the exhibition prints to the Mint. Through more than 130 photos by 67 photographers across the globe, W|ALLS explores various aspects of barriers whether they are made of stone, steel, sand, or wire. The exhibition will be divided into six sections—Delineation, Defense, Deterrent, The Divine, Decoration, and The Invisible—with each section anchored by a central photo essay.

Negesti (A Harlem Queen), 125th Avenue, Harlem, NYC. Sunday, August 25, 2019, 2:45 PM, (74 degrees). © Ruben Natal-San Miguel.

In addition to these two photography shows on view in the galleries, the Mint’s first online exhibition: Expanding the Pantheon: Women R Beautiful launched on the Mint’s website in November 2020. It presents 26 portraits by Ruben Natal-San Miguel, whose Mama became an audience favorite when it joined the collection in 2018. Natal-San Miguel photographs subjects not historically seen on museum walls, and his new series continues that project, presenting feminine beauty in a myriad of shades—literally and symbolically. In addition to Mama, two other online images—Mary C. Curtis (Journalist) and Three Muslim Women—can be seen in the Contemporary Galleries. They were donated to the museum last year thanks to the generosity of Dana Martin Davis (who also donated Mama) and Natal-San Miguel.

As art historian Coco Fusco observes in the book Only Skin Deep: Changing Visions of the American Self, “The photographic image plays a central role in American culture.” We have seen this most prominently in the press, advertising, and social media, and we will continue to examine its effects through our photography exhibitions at the Mint. Look for an increased presence of photography online and in the galleries in the coming years.

This story was originally published in the January, 2021 issue of Inspired, the Mint’s biannual member magazine.