Kitchen Table Series


Carrie Mae Weems, Untitled, from the Kitchen Table Series, 1990 (63.2001.3)

Carrie Mae Weems tells stories in her photographs, often becoming her own subject. She uses her work to explore cultural, social, and political issues, particularly those dealing with representation of women and African Americans, and comments on race, sex, and gender.

In this series, Weems portrays many different domestic scenes all centered around the kitchen table with herself as the one continuous subject throughout all of the images. This selection of works focuses on family, domestic space, and the urban landscape. It brings together photographs from various traditions like conceptualism, still life, and social documentary.

These works ask us to think critically about the role played by the artist, particularly the photographer, in the creation and shaping of a narrative to tell the stories that have been ignored, forgotten, or erased.

This square black-and-white photograph from Carrie Mae Weems’s Kitchen Table Series takes the form of a couple embracing each other over a kitchen table; a sweet and simple moment between two people that inhabit this modern domestic scene. A beautiful geometric composition jumps between squares and circles: wooden table, newspaper, door, frame, glass of water, chair . . . and then back to the center of the image. With a spotlight on both subjects, we become witnesses of this fleeting moment of love that quickly becomes much more than just that. Looking at the shape of the two bodies together and their dark shadow behind, we confirm that here lies a more substantial theme of balances of power within sexual and romantic relationships, as their bodies intertwine and mold into one.

Nina Mendez Marti, ICP-Bard 2014

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Passover on the S.S. Providence, 1947

[Jewish refugees and Holocaust survivors celebrate Passover on board the S.S. Providence bound for Palestine], April 1947

Roman Vishniac, [Jewish refugees and Holocaust survivors celebrate Passover on board the S.S. Providence bound for Palestine], April 1947

The passenger ship S.S. Providence brought Holocaust survivors from various ports in Europe to Haifa, Palestine, in 1947-48. Although the majority of ships attempting to bring Jewish refugees to Palestine were technically illegal and in defiance of strict British immigration quotas (the S.S. Exodus 1947 is the most famous example), the British permitted a limited number of people to legally immigrate, including the passengers of the S.S. Providence. Vishniac photographed the passengers who had been liberated from Nazi concentration camps and were survivors from the Bergen-Belsen Displaced Persons’ Camp and the nearby Blankensee children’s home, when the ship departed from Marseille Harbor. The Passover seder, which commemorates the liberation of the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt, must have served as a poignant reminder of the survivors’ own recent ordeals as they prepared for their new lives in Palestine.

[Jewish refugees from Germany leaving France for Palestine on board the S.S. Providence, Marseille Harbor], April 1947

Roman Vishniac, [Jewish refugees from Germany leaving France for Palestine on board the S.S. Providence, Marseille Harbor], April 1947

Roman Vishniac’s entire archive of recently discovered negatives, spanning the 1920s to 1970s, includes a large body of previously unknown material documenting the lives and experiences of Holocaust survivors and Displaced Persons in postwar Europe. As the result of generous contributions from a large number of foundations and individuals that supported the work of the Vishniac Archive over the past six years, all of his negatives are now digitized at the highest possible resolution and publicly accessible online for the first time, in partnership with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum:
Search the collection.

To see more images from the recently discovered S.S. Providence series, please explore ICP’s recent exhibition, Roman Vishniac Rediscovered, which is now online. This ICP traveling exhibition opened in Amsterdam, where it will be on view through August 24, before traveling to Paris, Warsaw, Houston, San Francisco and several other venues.

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A First Shout-Out: The New, New American Landscape

haas_ernst_3_1976Ernst Haas, Montana. On Set–Little Big Man Filming, 1974 (3.1976)

The American landscape of our memory, and relatively our most recent past, first memorialized in the subtle hues and creamy pastels by the grand painting masters such as Thomas Cole, Thomas Eakins, or Winslow Homer, and then concretely flattened in the blacks and whites of Ansel Adams, and consequently the new topographers, famously Robert Adams, Lewis Baltz, the Bechers, among others, has taken twists and turns in the hands and eyes of the romantics on a mission to find their visual pleasure in the eccentricities of what they found: Stephen Shore, William Eggleston, Ed Ruscha. There is an American landscape on-the-go, and ready-made for an explorer with the means to delve into and document. There is an American landscape of the ages, of the now, and of the no longer in existence.

In this selection from the International Center of Photography’s collection, the pleasure in each landscape derives from the origin of its peculiarity, the man-made versus the land, the uses of such land as stages for illusions and constructed narratives, and the understanding of this vastness as not never-ending, but in fact, concretely rooted in one discreet capsule of geography and time.

The work of Ernst Haas (1921-1986), John Pfahl (b. 1939), and Charles Pratt (1926-1976) all encompass what’s simplistically known as the picturesque. Out of the three, John Pfahl continues to document the oddities he finds in the land in what he now calls a series on earth’s metamorphosis. There’s old-school if not twee glamour to these men, not strictly tied to conceptual applause. They are, perhaps, photographers for people of the  twenty-first century in search of the awe-inspiring. There’s the breed of men and women with cameras who knew everything about the apparatus that reproduced their dreamscapes. There’s the crop of photographs that, when encapsulated in the right place and time, represent what perhaps this new, new American landscape will be.

pratt_charles_64_1996Charles Pratt, Pigeon under Hwy, New York, Edge of City, 1960 (64.1996)

pratt_charles_53_1996Charles Pratt, Edge of City, 1962 (53.1996)

Charles Pratt, raised in New York City and Maine, was awestruck by what he called the “edges of the city.” It was his fear that the edges of New York would eventually blur, making his city merge in an vast “megalopolis” with Boston and Washington, D.C. Pratt stated: “I find myself drawn to [the] edges with a sense of urgency, knowing that they may be gone tomorrow—not just extended but really, finally gone.” Out of the three photographers in this presentation, the “scarcity of the city” versus that of the countryside is his preoccupation. In his landscapes the “rivers, parks along the waterfront, highways, embankments, empty lots, airports, rooftops, and the marshes in New Jersey” are predominant.

haas_ernst_77_1976Ernst Haas, Communication, Nevada, 1962 (77.1976)

Ernst Haas, born in Vienna, moved to the United States in 1951 and was part of the LIFE magazine crew, as well as Magnum, an invitation he received directly from Robert Capa. He was a successful, and prolific travel photographer. His work not only for LIFE, but also Vogue, and Look took him across the globe. Haas was considered a pioneer in color photography. The two works selected represent two instances of man in land that evoke two very different variants: the presence of man through his absence with symbols of modern communication, and the presence of man’s chimeras and story-making machine through the lens of motion pictures, and the Hollywood ubiquity.

pfahl_john_420_1984John Pfahl, Nine Desert Snowballs, Hell’s Half Acre, WY, 1977 (420.1984)

Lastly, John Pfahl’s inclusion echoes the “alteration” of the picturesque in its most ambiguous iteration: the oddity of elements in his photograph convey a feeling of eeriness and unknown processes, perhaps hidden and unfamiliar to us, but sourced from systems that seem unlikely to be married with the landscape, yet there they appear, in man’s necessity to maintaining his manufacturing activities apparently seamless, but never quite so.

Laura A. González, ICP-Bard 2014

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Unidentified Photographer, [Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, and Buzz Aldrin looking out window of USS Hornet], July 24, 1969 (2012.99.12)


Krisanne Johnson, A young HIV-positive woman who works in the garment industry laughs with friends at her rented one-room home, Matsapha, Swaziland, February 2012 (2013.59.2)

leroy_catherine_2011_73_1Catherine Leroy, A Marine is hit by North Vietnamese fire during Battle of Hue, February 1, 1968 (2011.73.1)

lyon_danny_2010_3_20Danny Lyon, Renegade’s funeral, Detroit, 1966 (2010.3.20)


Yoshito Matsushige, [Dazed survivors huddle together in the street ten minutes after the atomic bomb was dropped on their city, Hiroshima], August 6, 1945 (1464.2005)

We often seem to place great importance on individuals. There are people remembered long after they have faded from this earth because of some act of heroism or ingenuity. It could be claimed, however, that there are no men who truly operate alone, that no successes or discoveries are the result of one person. These remarkable individuals are able to be so because their work, their bravery is achieved in part by standing on the shoulders of giants, on the accomplishments of those before and around them. There is a multitude of persons, the quiet participant, the off-stage support, and the forgotten chorus that rose to the occasion.

As Aristotle said in Politics, “Man is by nature a social animal; an individual who is unsocial naturally and not accidentally is either beneath our notice or more than human. Society is something that precedes the individual. Anyone who either cannot lead the common life or is so self-sufficient as not to need to, and therefore does not partake of society, is either a beast or a god. ” When we, these social creatures, are put into situations of particular stress, excitement or intensity, a great sense of camaraderie can develop. Whether it is on an expedition to the Poles, in a laboratory, on the battlefront, or in a community besieged by difficulties, camaraderie is the enhancement of bonds that give us strength, sometimes in quantities so great it is astounding.

Kathy Akey, ICP-Bard 2014

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Sugar, Fish, and Fortresses: Life in a Colonial Stronghold as seen by Charles W. Blackburne

Charles W. Blackburne [Cooper's Photo Studio and Belgrave's Curiosity Shop, Bridgetown, Barbados] , 1897-1912

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Charles W. Blackburne [Shell fishers, St. Thomas] 1897-1912

During the span of his career as an importer of goods to the United States from the West Indies (1897-1912), Charles W. Blackburne (1860-1936 ) prolifically pursued his interest in photography, methodically setting up his large format camera to expose on glass plates the world in which he traveled. This included Antigua, Barbados, Demerara (a region of present day Guyana), Dominica, Guadeloupe, Martinique, Montserrat, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Martins, St. Thomas, Suriname, and Trinidad, as well as the many ocean liners he sailed upon to arrive at these distant places.

The surviving collection of approximately 450 glass plate negatives and a smaller selection of film negatives (fewer than 100) document in considerable detail the physical and cultural landscape of these very small Islands at a time when Colonial powers were inspired by the discovery of new markets, new places to settle Europe’s poor migrants, and the desire to “civilize the barbarians”.

What could have been just a simple collection of travel images is fortunately elucidated upon by Blackburne himself, transforming them into a narrative with much greater insight. In elegant red script he briefly describes the subject in each image on each of the corresponding negative sleeves; noting sometimes on location, or an activity, and in the case of a portrait, often identifying the individuals. This has revealed elements within the image that may otherwise not be identified due to locations long since having been restructured, or in the case of one city, no longer existing because of a volcanic eruption. The notations also tell us what Blackburne found most relevant in the image, and often clarifying the focal point of his intent. In some cases, the notations tie many of the images together that would otherwise be visually unconnected – such as identifying a family of children in one image, the family home in another, and then identifying the same family’s mill in yet another image.

Blackburne_St. Kitts114_2013_81_260
Charles W. Blackburne [Yearwood Mill, St. Kitts], 1897‑1912

Charles W. Blackburne [Penny divers, Martinique], 1897-1902

Although complicit in this force that continued to assault the Caribbean, Blackburne took some startling and insightful images that serve as observation or even documentation, although not necessarily sympathetic, of the impact of Colonial powers on the Islands. He was after all a broker by trade and many of his friends that he photographed were photographed in leisure activities and assumed positions of power in their respective townships. The writings on the negative sleeves reveal his interest in the specific, such as the names of stores, their owners, government buildings, Lodges, the landscape, and recreational activities. But he also turned the lens of his camera towards the poor indigenous population and recorded, with similar curiosity and specificity, activities such as washing clothes, fishing, the transportation of lumber, collecting shell fish, and selling produce at the local markets, as well as more intimate portraits such as one of a street barber and some, where the entire family is posed in front of their home.

Individually some of the images are remarkable in their beauty – Blackburne’s interest in the aesthetic is clearly underscored by the attention he paid to composition as much as by the discrimination he displayed in selecting what he chose to photograph. Collectively, there is a much richer story being told – one that fifteen years visiting the Caribbean as a trader,  and passive observer of a Colonial stronghold, has revealed within the context of one man’s desire to record his experiences in photographs.

Charles W. Blackburne [Swan Street, Brigdetown, Barbados], 1897-1912

Last year, the heavy boxes containing 486 glass negatives were donated to ICP by John Noll, in honor of his father-in-law, Richard Waldmann, who had originally recognized the value of these wonderful images and preserved them for posterity.

Blackburne_St. Croix00_2013_81_191
Charles W. Blackburne [Children wearing sailor's hats from the HMS Superb, Christiansted, St. Croix], 1897-1912

Charles W. Blackburne [Dr. Doty and friends in park, Roseau, Dominica], 1897-1912

Charles W. Blackburne [Barber, Suriname] 1897-1912

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callahan_harry_304_1985Harry Callahan, Eleanor, Port Huron, 1954 (304.1985)

Harry Callahan only had eyes for one woman—her name was Eleanor Knapp. They met in 1933 when she saw a picture of him and proposed a date; two years later they were married. For the next six decades she would be his mistress and his muse. Photographed “an endless number of ways,” Eleanor was Callahan’s primary subject from 1947 to 1960.


Harry Callahan, Eleanor, Chicago, 1948 (2012.42.1)

Mainly self-taught, Callahan began photographing in 1938 with the Chrysler Camera Club in Detroit, Michigan. After seeing a lecture by Ansel Adams in 1941, Callahan was inspired to concentrate on his photography more seriously. He would shoot all morning and spend the afternoons printing the day’s best negatives. Photography became a ritualistic affair—a deeply personal one.

While living with Eleanor in Chicago, he invented the 8×10 view camera snapshot. His was casual, yet meticulous. Harry Callahan was like the Atget of Chicago in the 1950s—only it wasn’t the city that captivated him, it was his wife. In their home, on the street, and in nature, Callahan photographed Eleanor in order to possess her. She is ever-present in the photographs—in every form, in every ray of light, there is Eleanor.


Harry Callahan, Chicago, 1958 (3416.1992)


Harry Callahan, [Flower against sky], ca. 1950 (281.1981)

Callahan had a unique vision that combined the experimentation of the European Modernism with the grace of the Americans. The photographs selected were made in the couple’s first years in Chicago, before their daughter Barbara was born. With grace, Harry Callahan documents their most intimate moments alone together. He never exhausted of photographing her, and even in his landscapes and abstracted forms, it seems to be Eleanor his loving eye is searching for.

Kory Trolio, ICP-Bard 2014


Harry Callahan, Chicago, 1950 (602.1994)

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Smart, Witty, Clever: Rare, Early Street Photography by Ansel Adams

At the Zoo, Manhattan, 1953 (372.1984)

Sculpture, St. Vartan’s Armenian Church, New York City, 1966 (380.1984)

New York World’s Fair, 1964 (375.1984)

We recently found several examples of very rare, previously unseen examples of Ansel Adams’ early street photography…
Kidding! Of course they’re great, funny photos by Alfred Gescheidt (born 1926).
To hear a very funny and enlightening talk (with references to both Weegee and Roman Vishniac) by Alfred Gescheidt at ICP on December 15, 1982, please click here.

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