In a time ravaged by a pandemic, an insurrection and police killings of Black citizens, Monroe Gallery of Photography will show a series capturing it all.
For 20 years, the gallery has hung mainly historic photographs by such legends as Margaret Bourke-White, Harry Benson and Tony Vaccaro, although it has long included current work in its group shows. Past exhibits have paired Black Lives Matter images with photographs of the 1964 Selma March.
Opening June 18, “Present Tense” marks Monroe’s first multi-journalist exhibition of current news events during this epoch-changing era. It was time to pause the rush of virtual imagery with its storm of constantly flickering perceptions, gallery co-owner Michelle Monroe said.
“This is a first,” she said. “It seems obvious to us that we are living in a completely unique history. The question of survivability is upon us. We wanted people to stand before this moment and stay with it.”
David Butow’s print of National Guardsmen sprawled across the U.S. Capitol floor after the Jan. 6 insurrection coincidentally captured the New Mexico statue of Po’Pay, the leader of the 1680 Pueblo Revolt.
During the pandemic, Butow also shot an image of a masked couple walking the Hoboken, New Jersey boardwalk with an ominous Manhattan skyline in the background.
The hazy light in Ashley Gilbertson’s image of the Capitol Rotunda reveals a chilling truth.
“Ashley said the air inside was filled with teargas, bear spray and the fire extinguishers they had carried in,” co-owner Sidney Monroe said.
Gilbertson’s shot of Capitol Police Officer Eugene Goodman frames him in a doorway beneath the raised hands of insurrectionists.
“To the left of him you can see the stairway that he led them through away from the Senate,” Michelle Monroe said. “It recalls the man standing in front of the tanks at Tiananmen Square” in 1989.
Gilbertson also captured the sense of desperation and despair in her photo of a food line in New York’s Chinatown during the pandemic.
Ryan Vizzions’ photo of the U.S. Capitol through its new fencing encapsulates the story of the insurrection’s aftermath. The photographer also shot an image of the late Civil Rights leader Sen. John Lewis marching in Atlanta.
Sanjay Suchak’s eerie photo of Charlottesville marchers at the University of Virginia Rotunda appears almost reverent until you realize they are white supremacists. Suchak also produced a compelling image of a college graduate giving a triumphant Black Power salute in front of a graffiti-scrawled Robert E. Lee statue in Richmond, Virginia.
New Mexico photographer Gabriela Campos shot a scene closer to home when she photographed an Ohkay Owingeh dancer atop the empty platform where a statue of Don Juan de Oñate once stood in Rio Arriba County. She also cemented a picture of COVID-19 exhaustion in her portrait of a trio of masked nurses at Santa Fe’s St. Vincent Regional Medical Center.
“The impact and urgency of some of these photographs were immediately iconic,” Sidney Monroe said. “Sometimes it takes decades. We don’t need to wait a decade to look back.”