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.

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