2-D Doesn’t Have to Fall Flat

One of the best things about working with historical primary sources is the sense of intimacy that a researcher can conjure by reading old documents or viewing antiquated objects and imagery. Family photographs and formal portraits occasionally allow the viewer to peek at strangers’ bygone lives in surprising detail. Some photography-based exhibits, both institutional and online, have put innovative designs and themes to use in order to engage audiences.

Museum consultant and StEPS trainer, Linda Norris, has two recent blog posts that share ideas about using photographs as the inspiration and centerpieces for engaging exhibits and public programs. In one post, Norris described an intriguing installation at the Indiana Historical Society. The exhibit used photographs as a kind of window into the past and recreated the setting of each image. First person interpreters in period costume inhabited these tableaus and narrated the photograph’s story.

In another photographic exhibit project, a museum solicited submissions of participants’ photographs of their grandmothers. The idea was to gather images of participants’ grandmothers in their youth, not at the ages contributors would have remembered them. Norris submitted her own grandmothers’ pictures for the display, and the emotional exercise of curating her recent ancestors’ photographs nurtured a feeling of personal connection to the project and the institution.

Although the Indiana Historical Society’s exhibition would require costly reproduction, installation, and staffing, a young grandmother photographic exhibit is something any state or local historical society could do, and relatively inexpensively. A pop-up museum with the young grandmother theme would be even cheaper and maybe equally as engaging.

Zebulon Baird Vance, c. 1850


Thomas Wolfe, 1919

Another exhibit or programming idea focusing on vintage portraits is “My Daguerreotype Boyfriend,” an online crowd-sourced selection of images of young men, “where early photography meets extreme hotness.” Wouldn’t it be fun to sift through your institution’s photographic archive and select candidates to submit to the site? Or to develop a public program, either by crowd sourcing entries or using your institution’s collection? An NC institution could have a “Vintage Mr. North Carolina” pageant and our State Historic Sites could present several qualified candidates. How about this as a project for Digital NC?


About collectionsconversations

This blog will contain posts from the C2C project staff on a variety of topics related to collections care and disaster preparedness. Enjoy the posts and let us know if you would like additional information or have a topic you would like for us to address.

Posted on March 27, 2012, in collections access, Exhibitions, historic sites, public programs and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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