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Virginia Browning

Virginia Browning

1936

Mike Disfarmer

(American, 1884-1959)

Vintage gelatin silver print

Image: 8.4 x 5.9 cm (3 5/16 x 2 5/16 in.); Paper: 9.6 x 7 cm (3 3/4 x 2 3/4 in.)

Gift of George Stephanopoulos 2016.476

Description

Disfarmer may not have considered himself an artist, but the art world quickly awarded him that status when his images were published to great acclaim in the 1970s. From 1915 to the 1950s, he operated a portrait studio in the farming community of Heber Springs, Arkansas. By the 1930s, Disfarmer had departed from commercial portrait conventions for a minimalist aesthetic. He set subjects against one of two plain backdrops, one light with taped stripes and the other plain and dark. Instead of putting his subjects at ease, he was silent and sometimes photographed from behind a wall, waiting until they became themselves. His portraits reveal not just individuals but the social reality of life in small town America through times of war, feast, famine, the Depression, and war again.

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