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The Power of Photography

January 5, 2016

Pierre-Louis Pierson (French, 1822–1913). La Frayeur, 1861–64. Salted paper print with applied color; Image: 22 7/16 x 17 5/16 in. (57 x 44 cm), Mat: 29 1/2 x 23 5/16 in. (75 x 59.2 cm). The Metropolitan Museum or Art, New York, Purchase, The Camille M. Lownds Fund, Joyce F. Menschel Gift, Louis V. Bell and 2012 Benefit Funds, and C. Jay Moorhead Foundation Gift, 2015 (2015.395)

«Welcome to the exhibition Grand Illusions: Staged Photography from the Met Collection, where you'll find your eyes wandering and your imagination running loose. At the exhibition's entrance, you'll see a lady in white, the Countess of Castiglione, in Pierre-Louis Pierson's La Frayeur. After losing myself in the Museum for three hours on an ordinary Tuesday, I found myself entranced by this lady in white. Clearly, she is a woman of finer taste: her dress is posh and hair exquisite. But, it was her pose that drew me in. I wondered, "What's wrong? Why is she running away?" And, as an afterthought, "Was it her fault?" »

In this scene, the countess runs away from a great fire in the ballroom. Her anxious expression is understandable. The viewer knows that she is afraid, but has the great power of deciding why: her crouch can be one of pain or guilt. The countess worked closely with Pierson, I learned, to create a series of staged portraits like this one. I can imagine how much fun she had throughout the process, experiencing the energy that stems from artistry and creating stories. Photography is a form of storytelling; it is a single captured moment that can speak louder than memory. It evokes the same emotion that one feels from a painting, sculpture, film, piece of writing, or song.

As I walked further into the exhibition, still mesmerized and reeling, another image hooked me in: this time, a black-and-white photograph of a girl sitting up on her bed. Her eyes are wide, which might be the result of sunshine through the curtains or something more sinister, like a stranger walking into her room. I heard an elderly couple nearby whisper, "My God, the poor girl looks like death just ruined her whole day."

Clarence H. White (American, 1871–1925). Morning - The Coverlet, 1906. Platinum print; 8 5/8 x 6 5/8 in. (21.9 x 16.8 cm). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Alfred Stieglitz Collection, 1933 (33.43.311)

There is a power in each photograph in the exhibition that fascinates visitors for hours. Across the room, a group hovered by a photograph of lovers in the morning. A young boy took out his phone to capture a photograph of teens enjoying their day on a dock.

Nan Goldin (American, 1953). Nan and Brian in Bed, NYC, 1983. Silver dye bleach print; 20 x 24 in. (50.8 x 61 cm). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Purchase, The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation Gift, through Joyce and Robert Menschel, 2001 (2001.627) © 1983 Nan Goldin

Whether you visit Grand Illusions out of curiosity or for pleasure, your imagination is free to run wild. Don't miss your last chance to see the exhibition through January 18!

Ambar undefined

Ambar is a high school intern with the Museum's High School Internship Program.