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Identity

And One, 2011

Hank Willis Thomas, And One, 2011, digital chromogenic print, National Gallery of Art, Washington, Corcoran Collection (Gift of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York) 2015.19.5250

From the earliest portraits made in 1839 to today’s posed selfies, photography has played an integral role in defining both who we are and how we understand others. Portraits or self-portraits can reveal aspects of a person’s identity and ways in which it is influenced by family, class, gender, ethnicity, religion, culture, or nationality. Postmodern artists have also explored the influence of mass media on identity, stressing the importance of television, movies, advertising, and the Internet in shaping our beliefs and needs. Eadweard Muybridge’s self-portraits, made while acting out various types of work, show how he forged his public persona by performing in his own photographic studies. Alfred Stieglitz’s portraits of Georgia O’Keeffe indicate their intense personal relationship, but also help define his understanding of her as the archetypal woman and artist. August Sander (German, 1876 - 1964) created a vast catalog of portraits of Germans from the 1910s through the 1930s called People of the 20th Century, which classifies people by their profession. Lorna Simpson (American, born 1960) created linguistic and metaphorical connections between photographs of a woman’s neckline and words that refer to the horrors of slavery and lynching, while Tomoko Sawada’s self-portraits made in a photo booth humorously suggest the malleability of identity based on media stereotypes and outward appearances.