"Time and the  

Photographic Portrait" 


A gallery talk by artist Sandra Matthews  




Amherst, Mass. - Photographer Sandra Matthews gives the last in this spring's series of "Closer Look" gallery talks at the Mead Art Museum at Amherst College on Friday, June 6, at 4:30 p.m. Titled "Time and the Photographic Portrait," Matthews's talk focuses on two of her works currently on display in the Mead's exhibition New Arrivals: Modern and Contemporary Additions to the Collection. Both are "composite portraits" from her Timelines
project, which is devoted to exploring what Matthews calls "the temporal dimensions of portraits."

Composite portraits are made up of multiple images. Unlike a conventional portrait that aims to capture a person's essence and appearance at a single moment, a composite looks at the same sitter from different angles or, as in Matthews's work, from the same angle but on a different day, and even in a different decade. Putting the images together in a single work produces a composite, or collage.  


Matthews works exclusively in photographic collage. "The single images that I take," she says, "go into my 'archive' for use in collage." Waiting, as Matthews does, a decade or more to complete a work takes both patience and faith - faith that the result will be intriguing and worth waiting for, and faith that the sitters will be available and willing to participate in the creation of a second portrait.


"A photographic portrait is never simply a representation of the face or body of an individual," Matthews says. "It always suggests larger narratives."


Narratives about family are suggested in one of the works Matthews will talk about at the Mead. Amira and Nancy 1989/Amira and Samari 2008 consists of two photographs: the image of a baby held on a woman's lap in one photo is contiguous with a photo of another baby held by a different young woman. The recurrence of the name Amira in the title tells us that Amira is in both photos: she's presumably the baby on the left and the young woman on the right. Once we figure this out, we're drawn to examine the portraits more closely, and to look at the ways Amira has changed over time. Does the nineteen-year-old resemble the baby she used to be? She looks different from Nancy - they have different skin colors - can we assume they are mother and daughter? If Nancy is Amira's mother, and Amira is Samari's, the work is a family portrait depicting three generations. "Mothers serve as primary vehicles for ensuring the continuity of human history," Matthews wrote in an essay about some of her mother-and-child portraits in the Timelines series. She hopes that such images "speak, among other things, of the complexity of what is transmitted between generations."  


Matthews is an associate professor of film and photography at Hampshire College. She is also the editor of Trans-Asia Photography Review, an online scholarly journal "devoted to the discussion of historic and contemporary photography from Asia." She has written numerous essays, and is coauthor, with Laura Wexler, of the book Pregnant Pictures (2000), which features hundreds of photos of pregnant women. She earned a BA from Harvard University in Visual and Environmental Studies, and an MFA from SUNY Buffalo.  


Her photographs are held in many collections, including Harvard's Fogg Art Museum, Yale's Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Among the Five Colleges, the museums at Smith and Mount Holyoke Colleges, in addition to Amherst, all include Sandra Matthews in their collections.  


In her gallery talk, Matthews will also show and discuss works by several other photographers with a similar interest in capturing the effects of time in portraits. The gallery talk and the reception that follows are free and open to the public.


The Mead Art Museum houses the art collection of Amherst College, spanning 5,000 years and encompassing the creative achievements of many world cultures. An accredited member of the American Association of Museums, the Mead participates in Museums10, a regional cultural collaboration. The museum and its gift shop-café are open year-round Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Friday from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. The museum offers extended hours during the academic term, staying open until midnight on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Sunday.  

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