Curator’s Choice: Photos that make you feel

“You don’t make a photograph just with a camera. You bring to the act of photography all the pictures you have seen, the books you have read, the music you have heard, the people you have loved.”
― Ansel Adams

A woman in a pollera and tembleques at a Latin American Festival in Washington, D.C. Anacostia Community Museum Black Mosaic archives. Photographer: Harold Dorwin
A woman in a pollera and tembleques at a Latin American Festival in Washington, D.C. Black Mosaic Collection, Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum Archives, Smithsonian Institution. Photographer: Harold Dorwin

This woman de la tercera edad, as we would say in Spanish, is a quiet representation of pride.  In her pollera, the national costume of Panama, with her gold hair pieces and tembleques, the white hair ornaments, she is intently working on another hair adornment, seemingly unperturbed by the men around her in t-shirts. She isn’t in Panama. She is in Washington, D.C.

The first time I saw this picture in the Anacostia Community Museum Archives, I felt.

As the opening quotation alludes, every viewer brings something unique to the photographs they view. Viewing pictures is not passive; it is an active interpretation. Sometimes we can articulate why we like an image or why we do not. But other times, images just touch you.  They simply make you feel.

This picture touched me for various personal reasons, related to the quotation by Ansel Adams.  Of the thousands of pictures in the Black Mosaic archives, this image would of course catch my attention.

I look at this, as you do, through multiple lenses. For example:  as a woman, the daughter of a Panamanian father, someone that was very close to my grandmothers, someone who works directly in visual representation, as an anthropologist concerned with the politics of the quotidian, as a scholar that studies international representation in U.S. spaces, as someone that loves polleras… the reasons I am drawn to this image are countless.

Often times, nation and pride are visually represented by flags and/or children.  This picture has neither. And yet, to me, perhaps because of what I’ve seen, read, the music I’ve heard and the people I’ve loved, this is a strong and sweet representation of love, nation, and pride.

*This image will be included in the upcoming exhibition: Bridging the Americas: Community and Belonging from Panama < — > Washington, D.C. , opening at the Anacostia Community Museum in April 2015.

Wee Wee: Our Neighborhood Santa!

It’s Holiday season, and I can’t think of a better way to celebrate it here at the Anacostia Community Museum than remembering our very own Santa – Wee Wee (Milton Jones) from the 1970s and 80s.  Back in the “old days of the 1970s,” we had our own Santa Claus in the neighborhood of Anacostia.  Santa came to see the children and bring them toys and goodies by way of parade car, in the jitney bus, walking, and even by helicopter.

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Wee Wee (Santa) arrives in helicopter, circa 1971. Anacostia Community Museum Archives, Smithsonian Institution. Photo taken by Zora Martin Felton.

Wee Wee was the Santa Claus for the museum for over ten years. He was a member of the Smithsonian Anacostia Neighborhood Museum’s Exhibition Department, and also ran the gift shop at the museum.  The neighborhood had a Christmas parade, featuring our neighborhood Santa.  The streets were lined with people all the way down Martin Luther King Jr., Ave. (then Nichols Avenue) and children and parents were lined up at the Anacostia Museum door to go talk to Santa about their Christmas wishes and receive a toy.

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Here comes Santa in the Parade, December 1971. Anacostia Community Museum Archives, Smithsonian Institution. Photo taken by Zora Martin Felton.

Anacostia's Own Santa, circa 1970, Anacostia Community Museum Archives, Smithsonian Institution. Photo taken by Zora Martin Felton.

Our Santa had helpers too!  YAC (Youth Advisory Committee) members would assist Santa with the toy giveaways and goodies.  As a member of YAC in the later years, I was not present during our Santa years, but I vividly remember working with Wee Wee in  our gift shop. Wee Wee (Milton Jones) was a real pillar in our community and museum.