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."
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.
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!