The Creation of "Intimate Moments"


The Creation of "Intimate Moments"

Museum Studies intern at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh – Fall 2018

For the past two months, I have been lucky enough to work alongside the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh’s REcollection Studio to curate and develop an exhibition using photographs from the Pittsburgh Photographic Library (PPL).

This collection was gathered from a photography program initiated by the Allegheny Conference on Community Development in the early 1950s, in an attempt to document the daily life of the American people. Lead by photographer Roy Stryker, the project consisted of a group of photographers given the task to shoot Pittsburgh as it was. This venture was one of the largest photographic documentation ventures ever undertaken in America at the time.

The resulting Pittsburgh Photographic Library is a collection of over 11,000 black-and-white negatives rich with the History of Pittsburgh. The specific task given to me by my supervisor Brooke Sansosti, the Digitization and Special Projects Lead, was to develop an exhibition featuring photographer Esther Bubley, one of the few female photographers who took part in the initiative. My mission was to go through the collection and find a compelling theme within her photographs that would best showcase her work as a photographer.

Going through a collection this large wasn’t an easy, or timely, task, and at first, deciding on a theme seemed almost impossible with all the possibilities. Bubley shot all kinds of subjects during her time with the PPL, from families, to community events, to hospitals, to architecture, and much more.

It wasn’t until I read more about her life, that I discovered exactly what I wanted people to take away from her work. In her biography, her niece, who now owns her estate collection, notes that Bubley was a “people photographer”, and had the uncanny ability to achieve intimacy with her subjects. Another author, Benjamin Ivry, mentioned that “in her quiet way, [she] was an empathetic witness to silent sufferings.” Even according to Stryker, head of the project, her subjects “didn’t realize she was there, she wasn’t invading them, she was sort of floating around. And all of the sudden they saw themselves, not unpleasantly, yet with her discernment… and they said ‘My God, its interesting.”

After this, I knew right away that I wanted to showcase those “intimate moments”, as they are often overlooked, and aren’t what one would immediately think of when considering a large city’s historical documentation.

Once figuring this out, I was able to view the collection in a new light. I understood just how rare and fleeting these moments actually are, proving her immense skill as a photographer. Bubley was able to capture these quiet moments, therefore capturing people in very vulnerable situations. She took ordinary people doing everyday things and raised it to the level of art.

With this theme in mind, I was able to select 15 images from the collection that I believe best represent this theme. The REcollection Studio at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, works hard to digitize and catalog the PPL in order to make it available to the public through online resources. With their technology, I was able to scan the negatives with immense detail and transform them into files that can now be uploaded online, or in my case, printed to exhibit.

From there, the next steps were simpler, creating wall texts and officially hanging the show in its home at Gallery @ Main, where it will run though the end of December 2018.

Curating an exhibition, and trying to select only 15 photographs out of a collection of over 11,000 is no easy feat. There is no right way to fully express the body of work of a singular artist. But, I believe that this collection showcases a really interesting perspective of humanity, and captures quiet moments in our city’s history that can never be relived again.

Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here

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