At the National Portrait Gallery

Mom was in town yesterday and we trekked down to the National Portrait Gallery and SAAM (Smithsonian American Art Museum), two of my favorites.  We saw a great photography exhibit called Women of Our Time: Twentieth Century Photographs (Oct. 10, 2008 – February 1, 2009). Who knew that Margaret Bourke White was such a hottie?  A poignant image of Marilyn Monroe taken by a troop whilst she was entertaining in South Korea.  Beautiful carbo (?) color images that were luminous.  It was inspiring to revisit the accomplishments of these women, many of whom have been obscured by the passage of time and the fact that our national attention is too often directed at women whose actions in the news are less worthy of mention.

Rep. Jeanette Rankin

Women we should remember are those like Jeanette Rankin, our first female congresswoman who fought for women’s suffrage in Montana and achieved it before the 20th ammendment was passed nationally. She was voted out her first term after voting against our participation in World War I (she was a committed pacificist), she returned to Congress 26 years later and repeated her performance in voting against our involvement in world War II, the only member of Congress to do so.  How we need people of such conscience today!

Margaret Sanger

And Margaret Sanger, who has a nurse working with impoverished populations saw the need for birth control to break the cycle of poverty that ensued when women went from pregnancy to pregnancy. She was persecuted for her actions, jailed, and persevered.

The show also reinforced to me the power of simplicity in a photograph. I have long berated myself in my portraiture in my inability to be Horst P. Horst.  But some of the most powerful portraits were just simply lit and it’s about the presence of the subject that really makes it.  I think sometimes that when we second guess ourselves we lose our path – often for me, it happens when I judge/compare myself against someone elses’ work/fame/success/failure.  A good reminder to stay the course, follow your path, and not to evaluate myself against anyone else but me, yesterday. A clear head is hard to come by.

There is a great slideshow and interactive on the website about the exhibit. You can see it here.

Less notable for me was a Georgia O’Keefe/Ansel Adams exhibit, though I did appreciate one quote I found by Adams about working with O’Keefe in Yosemite:

“To see O’Keefe in Yosemite is a revelation; for a while I was in a daze.  Her mood and the mood of the place, not in conflict, but a strange, new mixture for me.  She actually stirred me up to photograph Yoesemite all over again, to cut all the advertising out and see things for myself once more.”

I relate so much to this quote, being around other artists/creatives –  the most open ones whose energy really flows out from them, I find opens me up to new ways of seeing and being and I love that dynamic. We are all in this together.

On an unrelated note, but regarding a subject that is preoccupying us, found this great Dorothy Parker quote to in the first exhibit – take it as you will:

“If you want to know how God feels about money, look at who he gave it to.”


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