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Perfectly sized in a single room at Cornell’s Johnson Museum of Art is a rather eclectic exhibit, loosely tying together radically different photographers and their works by the examination of visual memory and the role of the photograph(er) in its creation. One section – Memory and War – is particularly horrifying; it makes you wonder how the photographers kept tears of anguish and anger from obscuring their focus.

Hung near Margaret Bourke-White’s 1945 bodies, both skeletal victims and self-poisoned politicians, are clean images that belie the horror behind them [Richard Erlich, Untitled (Filing Shelves) and Untitled (Buchenwald Binders), from the portfolio Holocaust Archives, International Tracing  Service, Bad Arolsen, Germany, 2007].  Sepia tones wash over the gaping mouths of the battlefield dead [Alexander Gardner, Dead at Gettysburg (Harvest of Death), 1863].

Other thematic sections, such as Portraits of Family and Friends, are easier to take in. There’s Marilyn, looking rather svelte for Vogue, and Sally Mann’s daughter holding a weasel, and Francesca Woodman hiding from the camera lens she herself had trained. Elsewhere, Robert ParkeHarrison’s post-apocalyptic Reclamation (2003) made me do a doubletake; Leon Levinstein’s Untitled (Nun with girl in tutu walking behind her) made me laugh.

From a curatorial standpoint, it’s a bit of a mishmash; for an interesting look at a broad swathe of formats, subjects, styles and eras covered by the photographic image, the exhibit hits its mark.

Go See Details:

Memory and the Photographic Image is on view at the Johnson Museum at Cornell University, through September 9, 2012. Entrance is free, as is the museum in general and the fifth floor view of the campus and Cayuga Lake. Through August 12, the museum also has another stellar photography exhibit: Witness: 20th Century Photographic Images from the Collection of Gary and Ellen Davis. Once you’re museum’d out, right across from the museum parking lot is one of the area’s many suspension bridges, offering a great look at the Gorges.

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