People have always gathered themselves and others into groups, whether small, intimate spheres or larger social and political collectives. Since its invention in 1839, photography has been used to form notions of who belongs—and who doesn’t—in a given moment, with amateur and professional photographers alike capturing these accounts as personally meaningful keepsakes and significant historical documents. Nearly 60 works in Collective Recollection create and recall various collective identities and experiences, encouraging viewers to consider who has the power to shape the representation of selfhood.
RISD Museum is supported by a grant from the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts, through an appropriation by the Rhode Island General Assembly and a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, and with the generous partnership of the Rhode Island School of Design, its Board of Trustees, and Museum Governors.
Since the invention of photography in 1839, amateur and professional photographers alike have captured moments when people come together, creating personally meaningful keepsakes and significant historical documents. These photographs act as records; they are collected and held on to, engaged with time and again, allowing viewers to remember and even reimagine the subjects and events pictured. In this way, photography forms notions of who belongs—and who doesn’t—to a group.
People frequently use photography to represent their own lived and shared experiences, portraying friends, family, peers, and themselves. People have also employed photography to categorize others—often according to biases and with lasting repercussions. Frequently the line falls somewhere in between, as many photographers, working with respectful intentions, have depicted groups of which they were not a part. When images circulate, they also take on other meanings, depending on the viewer’s perspective, adding yet another layer of interpretation.
The photographs in this gallery create and recall various collective identities and experiences, encouraging us to consider who has the power to shape the representation of selfhood—the subject, the photographer, or the viewer?
Allison Pappas Brown University Graduate Student Assistant Department of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs RISD Museum 2017–2018