Double Take, a photography show that highlights the Bryn Mawr College collection, asks us to look twice at photographs. Thoughtfully grouping diverse pictures in couples or threesomes, Double Take suggests that beyond the divergent conventions of street photography, portraiture or ethnographic travelogue, all photographs share a basic, subjective formation at the hand of the photographer. “An angle in one photograph reveals what we don’t see in another,” says curator Carrie Robbins. “In each case, the photographer’s decision intervenes upon what we see or know.” Robbins hopes that by juxtaposing these photographs we’ll notice important similarities and revealing differences that offer insight into why certain artists make certain choices.
For example, two photographs of workers on the street raise very different questions about the ethics of various sorts of labor. Paul Strand’s “Wall Street, New York” (1915) shows faceless suits from a bird’s eye view as they bustle past the anonymous architecture of the financial district. Beside Strand’s photograph of people walking on the street sits Lotte Jacobi’s photograph of streetwalkers. “Prostitutes (Hamburg)” (1932) adopts a low angle that funnels the torso of a woman in the foreground into the viewer’s personal space. She smiles and turns away from us in a blur, while her companion—another prostitute—stares frankly into the camera from mid-way down the alley. Although both images show people on their way to work, Jacobi’s photograph gives us the human face of labor while Strand’s surveys the rat race from a cool distance.
Double Take makes doubly good on its promise to reveal that which may have gone overlooked. In fact, many of the images in the exhibition are being shown for the first time at Bryn Mawr. “They lived in boxes unidentified for years,” curator Carrie Robbins confided. “Until I catalogued them two years ago they were virtually unknown to the school.” Thanks to Robbin’s efforts, a collection amassed over the years for teaching purposes now stands as a treasure trove of important photography. Pairing the work of visionary American photographers such as Edward Steichen and Walker Evans alongside European giants such as Eugène Atget and Edweard Muybridge, Double Take engages the viewer in a rigorous exercise of comparative and careful looking. It’s a gem whose many facets refract light onto both the complex history of photography and the curious history of collecting at an academic institution.
Double Take: Selected Views from the Photography Collection at Bryn Mawr College, 1860s-present
Through Feb. 17. Curator talk, Wednesday, Feb. 15, 4:30pm. Bryn Mawr College, Rare Book Study Room, Canaday Library, 101 North Merion Ave., Bryn Mawr. 610.526.6576. brynmawr.edu/library/double_take_exhibition.html