Getty Curator Karen Hellman: Framing the Story

Sep 30, 2013 11:12PM

"The other role a window has played is as a kind of frame for a story that the photographer is telling – whether the socially-concerned photographers like Arthur Rothstein, whose 1937 portrait of a young girl named Artelia Bendolph, Girl at Gee’s Bend frames her in the window of her log-and-earth home in Alabama, highlighting the schism between the magazine images pasted on the shutter and the life actually lived by most Americans at the time. Or as a character in a symbolic or staged photograph, which crosses the history of photography – from Julia Margaret Cameron’s Sadness to Gregory Crewdson’s image of a woman in her living room from his Twilight series, each suspend us in moments of emotion [Cameron’s model turns away from the window’s light, a dramatic act communicating an inner melancholy, made at the time of the actress’s brief marriage to the much older painter George Frederic Watts, this photograph suggests the sadness of leaving childhood and innocence behind] or eerie anticipation [Crewdson’s father was a psychologist with an interest in Freudian analysis, which could explain why his large-scale, staged photographs often seem to anticipate an uncanny happening. Twilight is the time of day when something clearly visible becomes increasingly less visible, when the ordinary—such as a woman looking out a window—becomes less ordinary. In Crewdson’s photograph the light comes not from the window but from the plastic wrapped lamp at the center of the photograph, which distorts the sense of scale and space in the room].”

—Karen Hellman, assistant curator in the Department of Photographs at the J. Paul Getty Museum

Image: Gregory Crewdson, Untitled, 2002. © Gregory Crewdson, The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, Gift of Trish and Jan de Bont