The one-room, three-part display is filled with intimate, subjective, and even esoteric angles that add up to a sense of immersion; dozens of lenses taking sensory impressions to telegraph to future generations what it was to have marched, and what it was to have looked around to see hundreds of thousands of your countrymen, bonded for the day in American ideals, marching alongside you.
The show features 24 wall images, two display cases of eight photographs each and a slide presentation that loops through nearly 60 images. It is the work of eight professional photographers (and one cartoonist), some of whom came to the march to work (for the UPI news agency and Look magazine), and others who came to take part and brought their cameras along.
In many commemorations, the 1963 march plays out against the vastness of its frame — against its protest signs and calls for full citizenship, against its stirring oratory, and against the deep racial divisions of the day. In this exhibition, the day plays across the faces and gestures of the people who were there. It shows up in how they dressed, the ways they clasped hands, huddled and hugged. It shows up in how they closed their eyes, or opened their mouths and belted out freedom songs.
“It’s about the photography for us,” said the exhibition’s co-curator, Verna Curtis. The photographers “were there, feeling it,” and “it makes for a different way of looking” at the march.
In the case of Leonard Freed, “it brings close-ups of individuals,” Curtis said, pointing out photos of black and white marchers joining hands in front of the Lincoln Memorial, small groups of men, young people, and a white priest with a young black man who is wearing a T-shirt with the words “Freedom Now” on the back. Freed photographed one couple, eyes closed, who seem to be humming. In another shot, they sing full force, and the image feels so alive you can almost hear the trill in their upper registers.
The exhibition is laid out as if you were walking through the day. It begins with an early-morning shot by Flip Schulke of marchers with signs heading toward their gathering spot, with the Capitol dome in the background. There’s a Bob Adelman photo of actor Ossie Davis holding a program outlining the schedule of events. People are moving from the Ellipse to the Washington Monument and then to the Lincoln Memorial, and a feeling of movement and multitude is conveyed as you walk through the exhibition room.
Even though some of the photographers were commissioned, the wall photos are mostly images that were not used by media outlets. They are images the photographers chose to print independently of an editor’s eye, culled from the hundreds they shot. One exception was a crowd photo taken over shoulder of Lincoln’s statue at the Lincoln Memorial by UPI photographer Jim Atherton. His editor had asked for something unusual, and Atherton affixed his camera to the end of a bamboo pole, which he extended while standing on a ladder behind the statue.
There are photographs of the planning for the march. One showing march organizer Bayard Rustin ran in the New York World-Telegram, and a UPI photo shows A. Philip Randolph, Roy Wilkins and Anna Arnold Hedgeman with plans spread out before them. There are marchers lining up to board buses in the pre-dawn darkness. These original photos from the Library of Congress collection have cropping marks and paper stuck to them, reflecting the many times they ran in newspapers around the country. “They are messy and that shows age and use, and we like that,” Curtis said.
The slide show features the only color photographs of the day, by Look magazine’s Stanley Tretick, and shots by one of the few female photographers, Marion Trikosko.
It also features the work of Roosevelt Carter, a news cameraman from Columbus, Ohio. His daughter was cleaning his studio and found a pocket of negatives stuck behind a desk, and donated them to the Library of Congress in 2008. Carter photographed Jackie Robinson and his son at the march. He also shot Lena Horne looking over her shoulder, Charlton Heston, Harry Belafonte and Burt Lancaster.
The exhibition ends with a Freed photograph of a solitary figure, his back to the camera, looking out over the reflecting pool, surrounded by the trash and litter and the remains of the day. It is an image of starkness and contemplation that presages the work to come.
It is an image that draws viewers in even as they are leaving.
A Day Like No Other: Commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington
Ground level of the Library of Congress Jefferson Building, 101 Independence Ave. SE, through March 1.
Other fall highlights:
“Mummies of the World,” the largest exhibition of human and animal mummies from South America, Asia, Egypt and other locations around the globe, is making the ninth and final stop on its national tour at the Maryland Science Center in Baltimore. The display — 150 mummies, mummy artifacts and mummy multimedia materials — features well-known examples including a 6,500-year-old Peruvian infant known as the Detmold Child and the Orlovits family, part of a group of 18th-century mummies discovered in a Hungarian church crypt. There’s also an Argentinian howler monkey, a kid favorite — date mummified unknown, reasons someone mummified a monkey also unknown.
Maryland Science Center
601 Light St., Baltimore, Sept. 28 to Jan. 20
The Philadelphia Museum of Art is showing more than 40 European and American abstract sculptures and drawings in “Barbara Chase-Riboud: The Malcolm X Steles.” The exhibition includes bronze and fiber works in an homage to the late civil rights leader, exploring ideas of contradictory associations in theme and material. It also includes drawings made during the development of the series and roughly 20 of the artist’s “monument drawings” from 1996-97. The exhibit marks the first major-museum solo exhibition in a decade for the acclaimed 74-year-old poet and visual artist.
Philadelphia Museum of Art
2600 Benjamin Franklin Pkwy., Philadelphia, Sept. 14 through Jan. 20
The Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington
, a 45,000-square-foot, $100 million facility housing books, manuscripts and archival material at the Mount Vernon estate, opens to the public Sept. 27. The library, whose capital campaign was launched in 2010, is intended as a scholarly retreat and educational and training center. It will highlight the first president’s intellectual achievements with “Take Note! Washington the Reader,” the library’s inaugural exhibition of books, notes and letters.