Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania…Strength in Numbers: Photography in Groups brings together nearly 100 photographs from the collections of all four Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh for the very first time. Opening in Gallery One at Carnegie Museum of Art (CMOA), the exhibition explores how photographers throughout history have used multiple images to create narratives or explore subjects more deeply than is possible with a single picture. Organized around themes of People, Place, and Perspective, Strength in Numbers showcases work from Carnegie Museum of Art, The Andy Warhol Museum, Carnegie Museum of Natural History, and Carnegie Science Center. Together, the collections from these institutions illustrate how powerful photography can be when displayed in groups.
Photographers often seek to better understand others by taking their picture. The theme of People in Strength in Numbers examines the work of photographers who have compiled groups of portraits. August Sander (German, 1876–1964) ambitiously tried to photograph every type of person living in Germany between the World Wars with his series People of the 20th Century. Though ultimately destined to fail, the project provided insight into preoccupations of Weimar-era society and the documentary ability of the camera. More recently, Zanele Muholi (South African, b. 1972) set out to catalogue the marginalized LGBTQ community in South Africa with her powerful project Faces and Phases. As a member of this community herself, Muholi humanizes and gives voice to people who otherwise are silenced. Part of the 2013 Carnegie International, this project has met widespread acclaim, and earned Muholi the International’s Fine Prize for emerging artists.
In the context of Strength in Numbers, Place is a concept that keeps one rooted and yet is always changing. As a foreigner traveling across the US in the mid-2000s, Paul Graham (British, b. 1956) was attuned to the everyday moments and ordinary places that most Americans ignored. With his multi-part photograph Pittsburgh (2004), Graham somehow turns a nondescript motel lawn into a sublime setting. By the late 1800s, Eugene Atget (French, 1857–1927) had settled on Paris as his most significant subject. The city’s old streets and storefronts were under threat from Baron Haussmann’s plan of modernization supported by Emperor Napoleon III. Atget’s series of photographs of small shops destined for demolition are filled with nostalgia, but resigned to the progression of time.
The theme of Perspective refers to the role that both the photographer and the viewer play in making a picture. LaToya Ruby Frazier’s (American, b. 1982) photographs made in her hometown of Braddock, PA, share tender, intimate moments between Frazier and her family with the rest of the world. By inviting viewers behind her camera and into her personal life, the artist gives access to scenes normally off-limits to outsiders. Access is also important to the work of Newsha Tavakolian (Iranian, b. 1981) whose series Hajj, Trip of a Lifetime follows the artist as she goes on a pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia. Through Tavakolian’s photographs, audiences can experience one of the most important journeys in Islam from the unique perspective of a practicing Muslim.
The exhibition features work dating from as early as 1887 and as recent as 2011 by artists including John Divola, Judy Fiskin, Mike Kelley, Sharon Lockhart, Eadweard Muybridge, Eliot Porter, and Andy Warhol. Strength in Numbers: Photography in Groups is the first exhibition organized for Carnegie Museum of Art by its new curator of photography, Dan Leers.