Oklahoma History Center photo exhibit focuses on original, everyday photos



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Scenes range from a traveling performer doing a backbend and a pair of nuns chilling out to a Santa Claus arguing over a stuffed raptor and a girl riding a concrete jackalope.

“Like you do. If I saw a concrete jackalope, I’d be up there in the blink of an eye,” joked Jim Meeks, curator of exhibits at the Oklahoma History Center. “I guess the core theme that we started to research was a bit odd. So that seems to be the common thread.”

Staff at the Oklahoma History Center selected 32 photographs from an estimated 12.5 million in the Oklahoma Historical Society’s collection for the exhibit “In the Vernacular: Everyday Images of Oklahoma Life,” an assemblage of light, strange and relevant images.

“Our photos reflect the collective and multifaceted experience that is unique to Oklahoma and Oklahoma throughout our history. The themes of our photo collections are wide ranging: from famous events to formal photographs, professional and commercial images, family snapshots and spontaneous snapshots. Photos capture and convey our story at a glance. It’s a common language we all understand, “said Rachel Mosman, Head of Photos and digital assets for the Oklahoma Historical Society, in an email.

I like that this exhibition came together independently of common themes. In this exhibit, we’re focusing on something unique – photos from our archive that express the common, daily, and daily experiences of every Oklahoman throughout history. These are photos that people don’t necessarily ask for or look for, but photos like this are fun and familiar. ”

What is vernacular photography?

Presented until August in the West Atrium Gallery of the history center, the exhibition presents “Vernacular photography”, which the Museum of Modern Art defines as a “generic term used to distinguish fine art photographs from those made by non-artists for a wide variety of purposes, including commercial, scientific, forensic, governmental and personal. “

The OKC exhibit includes snapshots – a major form of vernacular photography – as well as images taken by studio photographers and professional photojournalists. “In the Vernacular” highlights photos taken for a variety of purposes, including newspapers, souvenir postcards, government records, magazines and family albums.

“I’ve been interested in this stuff for a long time. I used to go to the flea market and antique stores… and I would just look at the pictures, looking for something interesting. , strange and obscure, ”says Meeks.

“It’s accidental art.… It’s kind of what I’ve always loved, because it’s unintentional, but it seems to transcend what he started out with.”

“In the Vernacular” features photos from the late 1800s to the 1970s, with subjects such as a cranky girl in her Easter finery, a woman stroking a pet lion cub, and a school space exploration science project . In a 1951 image from The Daily Oklahoman (now The Oklahoman), a car crashed into a billboard that coincidentally displays the message “Warning: accidents have no closed season.”

How did the exhibition come about?

Mosman called the creation of “In the Vernacular” with Meeks a dream come true, as she enjoys discovering moments of unintentional brilliance captured by amateur photographers and inscribed in the vast holdings of historical society.

“In my 15 years of working here, I often come across unique photos that make me look even longer trying to understand the purpose, emotions and relationships of the people involved in the creation of the photo,” a- she declared.

“With photos in the vernacular theme, I feel like I can identify with the creators and participants more than formal photographs. It makes me feel more connected with these people in history, even experiences. absurdities that were then viewed with as much appreciation as our daily experiences are to us today. ”

A series of posed photos of the contest winners from a Pittsburg County newspaper provided the inspiration for the exhibit, Meeks recalls.

“We were just cracking up because they were so weird, and whoever took them was really consistent in his awkwardness and his vision. go there the next step of ‘OK, we need to do a photo show on this’ … So she dragged photos for a year or two into a particular folder, “he said.

“They are everywhere in terms of subject matter and style etc., but we wanted it to be original, especially in the days of COVID.”

Especially with the exhibit assembled during the COVID-19 pandemic, Meeks said he hopes it will advance the centre’s mission to collect, preserve and share Oklahoma’s history while putting on a smile – even s ‘it is confused – on the faces of visitors.

“I think everyone has a weird family photo – or two, three or two dozen – in their dusty old shoe boxes with the family photos,” he said.

“We are trying to share and hopefully make some people’s day a little easier by coming to see these weird photographs,” he said.

“In the vernacular: daily pictures of life in Oklahoma”

When: Until August.

Or: Oklahoma History Center, 800 Nazih Zuhdi Drive.

Information: https://www.okhistory.org/historycenter or 405-522-0765.


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