Please join us for our second annual exhibition hosted at the Schack Art Center. Opening today June 22nd – August 28th, this exhibition features many images from the Museum’s vast portrait archive.
Remember Mondays are free!
In conjunction with the Schack Art Center’s retrospective of internationally recognized artist and Everett native, Chuck Close, Seeing Ourselves features a reimagining of historical portraits from the Everett Museum of History’s vast photography collection.
This exhibition examines the ideas of transformation through reproduction and replication, how we see ourselves, and what that means with modern technology. The images you see here have been duplicated and rescaled to create a unique and proactive dialogue with Chuck Close’s oversized, and, frequently, confrontational portraits, on view in the main galleries. They also create a new, wholly personal, interchange with the viewer. The viewer can compare the newly created imagery with the originals found in the accompanying catalog.
We, as humans, have always had the desire to create images of ourselves. Yet, in our earliest history, this method of immortalization was relegated to only ensuring a good hunt or ritual. In the ancient world, artistic representations of the human figure were limited to deities or spiritual figures, the wealthy, or those individuals deemed to have made an important enough contribution to warrant inclusion in this very rarified group, such as military and religious figures. Rarely were less important individuals documented for posterity, and if they were, they remained anonymous.
Evocative of our current preoccupation with popular Snapchat lenses, or colloquially filters, like rainbow puke or face swapping, both Medieval Eastern and Western portraiture traditions de-emphasized the human visage and embraced caricature to recreate the likeness of deities and spirits. Artists deformed or enhanced the subject to communicate a visual story so that the written word became unnecessary to a largely illiterate populace.
The Renaissance ushered in a new fervor for Humanism and the representation of the natural human and its perfection, much like our current trend of the #nomakeupselfie or #nofilter that have still been tweaked to flawlessness. This ideology was furthered by the introduction of oil paints allowing artists a versatility and range of depth that the tempera paints of the Medieval period did not. Nevertheless, the subjects of the portraits themselves remained almost always rich or important.
These mores loosened slightly in 16th and 17th century as depictions of middle-class life became the norm for many Baroque artists, yet their subjects perplexingly remained both anonymous and unnamed. It was not until the end of the 18th century, with the rise of an American middle-class who trended toward Classicism to reflect their new democratic ideals, and who were wholly independent of a monarchy or the church, that bourgeois portraiture became desirable, affordable, and popular.
Yet it was really the 19th century, with the advent of photography that the shift in favor of documenting the ordinary person came to prominence. In the early years of the century, travelling portrait artists produced images of middle-class subjects in various mediums including camera obscura silhouettes and miniature oil portraits. With the development of the earliest photographic incarnation of the daguerreotype, taken by massive, but still considered portable, cameras that would be literally strapped to the photographer’s back for their journey, the most elitist traditions of portraiture were completely invalidated. And by the end of the 19th century, anyone who owned a camera could choose what images they wanted to capture.
In the past twenty years, even greater strides in the democratization of personal representation have been made. History and the everyman responsible for it can be captured by anyone with a smartphone and shared with millions in seconds on multiple platforms. We can record and share the mundane, the silly, the prophetic, and the sublime. We can twist and change, deform and perfect, our own images with the touch of a button, no longer relying on someone else to decide how our image is presented.
While earlier generations had to wait patiently for their images to be developed, we now have the ability to instantly see our pictures, to edit them, delete them, to change them any way we like through any variation of applications, to represent the persona we want the world to see. This sense of immediacy, the ability in an instant to project a certain image, or thought, or event, or meal, or style, to our connected world is an entirely new notion and experience. But have we considered how that changes the way we view ourselves? Or how we view images from the past?
Nonetheless, we are still finding our way in a world where all shared images have the potential to become public domain, to have someone else take them, flip them, change them, make them into a meme, making their subject again anonymous, or like the historical images in this exhibition have them reimagined and presented to a new audience who have had no previous exposure to the original image. Once our image is out there, how do we control it? Can we control it?
Viewing the images in this exhibition through the lens of the historical significance of portraiture, as well as our ongoing obsession of documenting ourselves, Seeing Ourselves further examines the urge of every person to make their own mark, be it with a cave painted stick figure or a selfie, challenging the viewer to see the newly envisaged image before them.
The images included in this exhibition cross mediums, from photographs to pastel portraits and etchings to oil paintings. The viewer has the unique experience of seeing reproductions of both the original image, in the supplementary catalog, and the reimagined image, displayed on the wall, side-by-side and to posit the question: How would I have chosen to display these images?
So feel free when you go see the exhibition to take a picture with these faces from the past, add a filter, swap faces, use #emohseeingourselves, and make these images your own.