The museum’s curatorial team recognizes the stringency of Leonard’s vision, and in their hanging, they offer respite, as well as warning signs. On one of the walls hangs the spirit-lifting Roll #5, 6, 4 + 2 (2006/2016), which consists of contact sheets revealing birds flying through the clouds above industrial buildings. But then, in shots such as January 27, frame 8 (2012) and January 23, frame 8 (2011), we find black-and-white pictures of the sun, and remember that there are some things that we should not look at directly.
Leonard counsels us to forget that rule, and to keep our eyes open to the whole, harsh world. She conveys this advice in her delicate re-photographing of her own family’s candid snapshots, taken from the 1930s through ’50s. In this suite, we discern Leonard’s relatives sailing to America from London and Warsaw in the 1940s and looking over ship rails toward the Statue of Liberty. Glare intrudes on some of the photographs; Leonard reproduces others with minute variations on the original cropping, as if meditating on the vagaries of memory. In today’s climate of migrant-hate and the rise of white-supremacist ideology, it’s not difficult to tack a through line from the bearded lady to the bear, the sun, and the stateless people who managed to survive the flight from Warsaw to Ellis Island.