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Photos of My Relatives on View at the Brooklyn Museum

My grandparents would have never imagined that their photos would be viewed by visitors at the Brooklyn Museum.  Frankly, I never considered it either but, when my colleagues at the Museum designed a gallery interactive exploring the work of Lorna Simpson, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to share images of my relatives to further public engagement with one of my favorite artists.  I have been a fan of Lorna Simpson’s work since I first encountered Counting as a graduate student.  When I discovered that she was set to have a solo exhibition in the Brooklyn Museum’s Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art, I was ecstatic!

Arranged on a wall in the Sackler Center, the gallery interactive encourages viewers to look closely and consider the information presented in photographs of African Americans, similarly to those included in the special exhibition Lorna Simpson: Gathered.  One of my favorite works in the exhibition is Remind Me of Who I Am (2009).  In this work, Simpson organizes 50 ink drawings and 50 photographs of African American men and women in bronze frames along the Museum’s white wall.  The photographs are original prints she collected from eBay and specialty shops in Manhattan.  In many ways, this work and others in the  exhibition are commemorative of the nameless individuals whose lives and stories may have gone unknown but are considered and reconsidered by the viewer.  Lorna Simpson: Gathered demonstrates the artist’s continued interest in collective and individual identity, history, perception, and the human body.

The gallery interactive displays collected images of African Americans from the 1930s-90s.  Viewers are invited to interpret the photographs by writing and posting captions, stories, etc. next to the image of their choice.  I have been collecting and digitizing my family photographs and offered several reproductions to the project.  I have been very curious to know how museum visitors interpret my family photos.  Initially I wondered, ‘What might visitors notice that I possibly overlooked?’, ‘Would they accurately identify the relationships between individuals in each photograph?’, ‘How might they describe the mood of each image?’

I’m not completely surprised by any of the interpretations viewers offered, but it’s nice to know my images evoked humor and personal relevance for others.  Here are some of the interpretations visitors posted in response to my photographs.

“Grandpa meeting his grandbaby for the 1st time. She wants to cry but doesn’t because of the promise of candy.”


“I am happy I have a family!”


“BFF’s ♥”

“Sunday Best!”

“Guess what I’m carrying in my purse? You don’t even want to know!”


“Traditional African American wedding with a cultural background. Reminds me of my family wedding Beautiful yet simple!”

Many thanks to everyone who participated in this interactive. Feel free to leave your interpretations of the photos!

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