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alike have captured moments when people come together, creating personally meaningful keepsakes and significant historical documents.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?
Brown University Graduate Student Assistant
Department of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs
RISD Museum 2017–2018