Sonya Noskowiak, Calla Lily, ca. 1930s
Edward Weston, Pepper No.30, 1930
Robert K. Hower, July 4th Celebration, Louisville, Jefferson County, KY, 1976
John Pfahl, Goodyear #5, 1989
Robert Disraeli, Cold Day on Cherry Street. 1932
Walker Evans, Kitchen Wall, Alabama Farmstead, 1936
Barbara Kasten, Photogenic Painting Untitled 1974, 1974
John K. Rose, James A. Garfield, Chief of Apaches, 1900
Deborah Luster, 01-26 Location. 1800 Leonidas Street (Carrollton) Date(s). July 14, 2009 7:55 a.m. Name(s). Brian Christopher Smith (22) Notes. Face up with multiple gunshot wounds., 2008-2012
A Democracy of Images: Photographs from the Smithsonian American Art Museum
The photographs presented here are selected from the approximately 7,000 images collected since the museum’s photography program began thirty years ago, in 1983. Ranging from daguerreotype to digital, they depict the American experience and are loosely grouped around four ideas: American Characters, Spiritual Frontier, America Inhabited, and Imagination at Work.
The title A Democracy of Images refers to Walt Whitman’s belief that photography was a quintessentially American activity, rooted in everyday people and ordinary things and presented in a straightforward way. Known as the “poet of democracy,” Whitman wrote after visiting a daguerreotype studio in 1846: “You will see more lifethere—more variety, more human nature, more artistic beauty. . . than in any spot we know.” At the time of Whitman’s death, in 1892, George Eastman had just introduced mass market photography when he put an affordable box camera into the hands of thousands of Americans. The ability to capture an instant of lasting importance and fundamental truth mesmerized Americans then and continues to inspire photographers working today.