The Art of Remembering Portraits of Persistence

“All photographs are memento mori. To take a photograph is to participate in another person’s (or thing’s) mortality, vulnerability, mutability. Precisely by slicing out this moment and freezing it, all photographs testify to time’s relentless melt.” Susan Sontag

Exciting news!

Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery uploaded images from Votes for Women: A Portrait of Persistence to Wikimedia Commons.

“The Smithsonian—one of the leading museums and research centers in the United States—has added over 200 images of women involved in the battle for women’s suffrage in the country to Wikimedia Commons, one of the world’s largest collections of freely licensed media. The donation helps advance the Smithsonian’s strategic plan, which calls for reaching one billion people every year through digital-first initiatives.”

Alice Paul

“I never doubted that equal rights was the right direction. Most reforms, most problems are complicated. But to me there is nothing complicated about ordinary equality.” Alice Paul, January 11, 1885 – July 9, 1977

Photos of two hundred women who lived and laboured for the betterment of society, during their time and for future generations,  are accessible, under free licensed media.   And this is only the beginning of the collection. According to Kelly Doyle, Open Knowledge Coordinator, Smithsonian Institution, “Our archivists and curators are dedicated to uncovering notable women within the archives who have been lost to history. The Smithsonian remains committed to sharing our digital assets as widely as possible.”

Belva Ann Bennett Lockwood

“I know we can’t abolish prejudice through laws, but we can set up guidelines for our actions by legislation.” Belva Ann Bennett Lockwood, October 24, 1830 – May 19, 1917

The art of photography speaks to our sense of belonging, to the overarching story of humanity.

These women, who have vanished within the folds of history, are remembered through the efforts of photographers who used their creativity to crystallize and preserve their image.   How many other photos in collections and vaults are quietly waiting to be discovered?

Photography has become ubiquitous in our digital age.  We are now the custodians and recorders of our generation.  We tell our stories with every photo that we take.  As Belva Ann Bennett Lockwood wrote many years ago, “The glory of each generation is to make its own precedents.”

Sojourner Truth

“If women want any rights more than they’s got, why don’t they just take them, and not be talking about it.” Sojourner Truth, 1797 – November 26, 1883

 

13 Comments

  1. valeriedavies

    Sojourner Truth is one of my favourite women.. what an amazing dignity and beauty she possessed, and her words are so authentic and succint… also loved the tassel in the background, I have an identical one in black and gold, and for lack of any appropriate place to hand it , have looped it in the back door!
    I fear for the records of the present and future, with no letters to read or photos stored in family archives- just e-mails and internet!

    1. Clanmother

      I share your admiration for Sojourner Truth. One of my favourite Sojourner Truth quotes is: “I feel safe in the midst of my enemies, for the truth is all powerful and will prevail.” Your thoughts about records for the present and future resonated with me as I consider how to preserve my father photos and letters. How do we record our stories for others to remember our time. Our technology allows us to connect, record and share in ways that were never imagined in the day of Sojourner Truth. Just yesterday, I came across lovely notepaper purchased many years ago, with the intention to write personal letters. It remain unopened, until now. Who knows what exciting possibilities have been opened. So glad that that you stopped by! Many hugs!!

  2. Ms Frances

    Yes. women before us have worked so hard for their rights and the rights of others. We owe them very much. It is good that now we can see many of their photos, of course, there were many others whose photos are not included. I think of my own mother who stood steadfastly for her and her friends rights and helped pave the way for our now easy journey into recognition. Like you so well said, it is our time now. I remember that old precious camera that we used decades ago–those were the ones that recorded much that we enjoy today. We need to keep up the good work with our own contribution of photos!

    1. Clanmother

      Your mother (my grandmother) was extraordinary. A nurse, a farmer’s wife, a writer. She lost her mother when she was only 12 and became the one who cared for the household at that very young age. We do stand on the shoulders of a wonderful women who was compassionate, funny, joyful and resilient.

  3. Resa

    How wonderful! I’ll take a look.
    These are precious photos.
    I agree that photos have become ubiquitous. There’s too many pictures, especially selfies.

    1. Clanmother

      I was looking through the photos and could only identify about 25%. One of my favourites is Sojourner Truth – what an amazing woman. Over the next few months I’m going to deep a little deeper into their background of these women. We stand on the shoulder/aprons of great women. And speaking of selfies, I found an article that dates back to 2014 that said that Google analytics indicate that there are 93 million “selfies” taken every day. I can only imagine that that number has grown exponentially now that we have Snapchat and instagram. Here again, I am interested in looking deeper into the history of portraits in art and compare them to our current reality. Has our technology democratized portraiture, now that everyone has the ability to record their face. Are we more narcissistic today than say, 200 years ago?

      1. Resa

        I would say…yes, fr the most part. The rich are always in a league of their own, but 200 years ago people worked very hard with short life span expectancy. Who had time for narcissism?

    1. Clanmother

      I agree – the idea of sharing across the globe, and allowing these photos to be in the public domain is a profound step forward in creating a compassionate community. I confess that there were many names that I did not recognize. This collection is American women. There are so many other women from every nation that have worked tirelessly for the betterment of humanity. When we look back, we are given courage to continue in their footsteps . This is our time. Thank you for creating a wonderful virtual space that demonstrates that we are building upon their work. Grateful to those who invented the camera and photo development.

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