Now that I’ve returned to campus after a too-hot, too-short summer in New York City, I have finally had the opportunity to explore “Becoming: Photographs from the Wedge Collection.” I thought perhaps it would be best if I first became formally introduced to the exhibition, and accompanied Nasher Museum Director Kim Rorschach on her gallery talk this past Thursday evening. Dr. Rorschach highlighted several key pieces of Kenneth Montague’s thoughtful collection, but what I have found especially extraordinary about “Becoming” is that it truly illustrates a narrative investigating the ways in which black identity has been shaped by photographic portraits over the course of the last century. Each piece, each portrait, examines the relationship between subject and photographer, the connection between people and their communities, black cultural identity, and the ever-pressing question we repeatedly ask ourselves, “Who am I?”
“Becoming” moves quickly from portraits of young adults in Bamaki, Mali, who are exploring newfound identities in the wake of gaining independence from France in 1960 to James VanDerZee’s photographs documenting the Harlem Renaissance. Every portrait tells its own story, and although the faces of those in front of the camera lens may be, in reality, frozen to us, there is a profound sense of life the exhibition carries. Paramount in this sensation is Kenneth Montague’s personal musings on how he sees and understands each photograph, which in turn helps to frame the audience’s own reflections.
Kaitlin Gaiss is a Duke junior.
IMAGE: Duke students take in “Becoming: Photographs from the Wedge Collection.” Photo by Dr. J Caldwell.