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March 27, 2012 

Maggie Dethloff 

Andrew W. Mellon Post-Baccalaureate Curatorial Fellow  

Telephone 413/542-5455     

PHOTOdocument header

AMHERST, Mass.-Opening on Friday, March 30, the special exhibition PHOTOdocument: 20th-Century American Photography and Found Text includes photographs from the Mead Art Museum's permanent collection that feature found text-words and phrases that already existed in the environment and were not added by the artist.   


A diverse series of related events commences on Friday, March 30, at 4:30 p.m. with an opening gallery talk by Maggie Dethloff, the Andrew W. Mellon Post-Baccalaureate Curatorial Fellow and curator of the exhibition, on the interaction between text and imagery in selected photographs. A public reception will follow, offering a menu inspired by foods advertised in photographs in the exhibition.   


On Sunday, April 1, at 4 p.m., acclaimed street photographer Frank Paulin, whose work is represented in PHOTOdocument, will join Dethloff for a public conversation on the appearance of text in his photography.   


Programming continues on Thursday, April 12, from 7 to 9 p.m., with a screening and brief discussion of found text in Little Fugitive, a film by Raymond Abrashkin and New York Photo League photographer Morris Engel. 


In conjunction with the Amherst College Campus Challenge, on Thursday, April 19, at 4:30 p.m., Dethloff will introduce the concept of the 20th-century food-based charity via a discussion of James Van Der Zee's Milk Booth for Harlem Children, taken circa 1930. Donations of nonperishable food items toward the Campus Challenge's goal of a 10-ton food donation to the Amherst Survival Center are encouraged and can be dropped off in the museum's lobby before the event.   


On Saturday, April 28, from 1 to 4 p.m., Dethloff will facilitate a poetry workshop focused on found text and collage inspired by photographs in the exhibition. The workshop will conclude the event series.


PHOTOdocument: 20th-Century American Photography and Found Text, on view March 30 through July 22, 2012, in the Mead Art Museum, features 32 photographs in which text appears on posters, marquees, product packaging and other commercial materials. The pioneering documentary-style photographer Walker Evans believed these materials contributed to a unique American vernacular. With their combinations of found commercial text and imagery, the photographs enable an exploration of the relationship between "the American Dream," as represented in commercial advertising, and the social realities captured by the "truthful" lens of the camera. Considered together, the photographs offer a compelling glimpse into changing American identities over the course of the 20th-century and embody the photographer Joel Meyerowitz's notion of "the Great American Novel in photographs." Following the development of documentary-style photography in the United States and spanning from the First World War to the dawn of the digital age, the exhibition is presented roughly chronologically and according to subject or concept, such as "the cinema" and "economics."


The exhibition constitutes the capstone project of the museum's 2010-2012 Andrew W. Mellon Post-Baccalaureate Curatorial Fellowship. Through this fellowship, Dethloff (B.A. in art history, Smith College Class of 2010) was given the opportunity to undertake substantive museum work on a portion of the Mead's collection. Museum Director and Chief Curator Elizabeth Barker notes, "This visually compelling and thought-provoking exhibition marks the crowning achievement of Maggie's curatorial fellowship, during which she's mined Amherst College's collection of photographs to develop a fascinating series of gallery displays, public programs and special events."


The exhibition is accompanied by a richly illustrated catalogue, written by Dethloff, which will be available for sale in the museum's bookshop and via its website,, beginning on March 30.


Events and Dates: 


Friday, March 30, 4:30 p.m.
Opening Gallery talk and reception

Sunday, April 1, 4 p.m.
Public conversation with Maggie Dethloff and photographer Frank Paulin

Thursday, April 12, 7 to 9 p.m.
Raymond Abrashkin's and Morris Engel's film
Little Fugitive

Thursday, April 19, 4:30 p.m.
Discussion of James Van Der Zee's
Milk Booth for Harlem Children, ca. 1930, in conjunction with Amherst College Campus Challenge

Saturday, April 28, 1 to 4 p.m.
Found poetry workshop

A complete schedule of the museum's spring events is posted on the Mead's website at The Mead Art Museum houses the art collection of Amherst College, totaling more than 16,000 works. An accredited member of the American Association of Museums, the Mead participates in Museums10, a regional cultural collaboration. During the academic term, the museum is open Tuesday through Thursday and Sunday from 9 a.m. to midnight and from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday and Saturday. For more information, please visit the museum's website,, or call 413/542-2335.