The best photographic images in D.C. museums and galleries this year offered a memorable confluence of visual elements, engaged in conceptual experimentation, and made clever use of atypical materials and techniques. They were not, in other words, antiquated. But among my five favorites, only one was made in 2013.
The others were from 1947, 1956, 1973, and 2002, a fact that should not imply a dearth of new, impressive work. I prefer to see it as evidence that visually daring photography of every era continues to command the respect of our city’s curators.
1. Gordon Parks, "Department Store, Birmingham Alabama, 1956," from Adamson Gallery’s “Gordon Parks: An American Lens.”
The Adamson Gallery’s retrospective spotlighted Parks’ documentary work in Jim Crow-era Alabama. While many of Parks’ images are no-nonsense, this image, taken on the sidewalk outside a department store, offers a rich and affecting split-second tableau. Using lush, period-atypical color, Parks captured a maraschino-cherry-red “Colored Entrance” neon sign, the expressive faces of an African-American mother and girl, and a series of bold diagonals, seamlessly melding art and morality.