Among Others presents the seemingly endless possibilities of the group photograph, placing historically important portraits alongside records of significant cultural moments and experiments that helped reinvent the genre. In representations of the group, artist, subjects, and circumstances come together to create an image that might call to mind a loving family, a chance encounter among strangers, an embodiment of the democratic spirit, or a photographer’s ability to read and respond to a crowd. The photographs in the exhibition come in many formats: not just exhibition prints, snapshots, and posters, but also photo books, painted wooden sculpture, collages, baseball cards, and even a wastepaper basket featuring Richard M. Nixon. In their range and ingenuity, the works pose questions about family, diversity, democracy, representation, and the varieties of visual delight.
One section of the exhibition features candid scenes from public life, such as Robert Frank’s Trolley, New Orleans (1955), seen in a large-scale print the artist made around the time it graced the cover of his landmark book, The Americans (1959). Also on view are photographs of collective actions that came to define significant cultural moments, such as Eve Arnold’s 1960 photograph of a training school for Black sit-ins and Danny Lyon’s image of Haitian women praying in the month after the collapse of the corrupt regime of Jean-Claude Duvalier. Photographers took a wide range of approaches to representing the group beyond the arranged sittings of families or civic organizations. Bob Adelman’s People Wall, World’s Fair, New York exploits the way IBM’s 1965 attraction cast a spotlight on the social and ethnic diversity of fair attendees. For a 1970 recruitment poster for the Gay Liberation Front, Peter Hujar asked the group’s members to run exuberantly toward him on the street, enacting their slogan, “Come Out!!” Camera artists have often embedded themselves in the action they portray, as Susan Meiselas did when mingling with carnival strippers, first to capture them behind the scenes and then to photograph their audience from a performer’s perspective.
When the subjects are beloved celebrities, the portrait seals a relationship of shared admiration between maker and viewer. In 1965, press photographer Jean-Pierre Ducatez made four images that zeroed in on the lips of each of the Beatles, creating likenesses that appealed directly to dedicated fans. In 1981, Amy Arbus happened to snap a photo of a photogenic group hanging out near Times Square, and only later learned they were members of the Clash their entourage.
The exhibition features items of “pop photographica” that play radically with the conventions of camera representation. In these pieces, individual portraits are mixed and matched to suit the purposes of board games, collectibles such as cigarette cards, and even psychological tests. “The Morgan’s photography collection has grown and evolved in many directions since its founding in 2012, always with a dual emphasis on the camera’s creative possibilities and its role in shaping modern sensibilities,” said Colin B. Bailey, Director. “We are excited to present this wide-ranging selection of works, most of which are recent acquisitions and have never been exhibited before at the Morgan.”
Joel Smith, the Morgan’s Richard L. Menschel Curator and Department Head, said, “The group is a subject we’re so accustomed to seeing in photographs, it’s easy to forget that the conventions around it had to be invented, and that they shape our picture of reality. This exhibition invites viewers to explore the many ways images have defined—since long before the selfie—how it looks to belong to a group and what it means to be represented.”