The Orange Room (from “The Europeans”) by Tina Barney.
When someone takes our picture, we usually deliver a mile-wide grin, but there’s not a smile in the room at the Phillips Collection’s photography show in Washington.
The exhibit mostly consists of portraits of inner lives, taken by various photographers, and it’s about the encounter between the two participants. Susan Behrends Frank curated the small show, called “Shaping a Modern Identity,” which is running through Jan. 12.
“I see this whole spectrum of a conversation,” Frank says. “It’s like a dance between the photographer and the subject.”
Photographs were chosen from the collection of Joseph and Charlotte Lichtenberg, and while there are no big grins, there are plenty of poses. In a color series called “Nomads,” Andres Serrano invited various people in front of his camera.
“He showed up with a plain backdrop, lights, his camera,” Frank explains. “He asked these people to pose; he said all he asked of them was to look left or right.”
One of Serrano’s subjects — he called himself Sir Leonard — is a majestic, monumental African-American man. He wears an Indiana Jones hat, a fitted tweed overcoat, woolen gloves and a white bandanna around his neck.
“But when you look closely,” Frank says, “you see it’s a restaurant dinner napkin.”
Sir Leonard was homeless, destitute. Yet for this 1990 picture, he presents himself with style and flair.