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Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Swinging Window: Photography as Reflection

Blogs across the Smithsonian will give an inside look at the Institution’s archival collections and practices during a month long blog-a-thon in celebration of October’s American Archives Month. See additional posts from our other participating blogs, as well as related events and resources, on the Smithsonian’s Archives Month website.

We have camera phones.  We have selfie sticks.  We have twitter.  We have Facebook. Basically we can take and share photos endlessly.  They have become a piece of our minute to minute lives.

In many ways, we live in the best documented era in history. In other ways, we have lost something, there is less time for memory and reflection.  Even when photography became easier individuals still had to think before grabbing a photograph because it used film. Now we can take a photograph every second.  There is no space for time.
Constructed panorama of New York City (Hara Silk Album).
In 2013 The Freer Sackler Archives acquired a lovely collection of materials from Veronika Soul.  This collection includes postcards and images of a Japanese families’ travels in the 1920s.  It is interesting to look and see what really caught the eye of the photographer.  There are some candid photographs of construction in New York City, street scenes, and people. 

In some ways, not so different from what you or I would take photos of, but at the same time we can take a thousand photographs a day and not really capture what catches our attention for good or bad.
Boardwalk of New York City (Hara Silk Album).
Think of the last time you looked at something with wonder.  Think of the last time something stole your breath away.  Not easy is it? Or perhaps the memory is not from recent years?  In this photograph collection you can feel the excitement and awe radiating from the images.  It makes them more captivating than they might be otherwise.  The photographer was awed by what he saw and it is felt by the viewer in the most visceral way. 
Capturing all the flavors of New York City (Hara Silk Album).
Perhaps the art of photograph is dead?  Perhaps the instantaneous accessibility of everything from TV series to information is diminishing its important or resonance with individuals?  It is collections like these that make one stop to think.  Have we lost the ability to reflect?  What will the future think of us?  How will we help the future? Can twenty photographs taken on the same day be as telling as one thoughtfully taken one?

There are many things in our lives than can be used for reflection an old bike, a favorite toy, and even old family photographs.  Perhaps we need to sit still and take a look. 

Lara Amrod
Freer|Sackler Archives

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