Addison Updates Archive

Phillips Academy students curate exhibition exploring photography as poetry

This fall, Phillips Academy students Campbell Munn ‘19 and Brandon Qi ‘18 collaborated with Addison Gallery staff to present sad poems.​, an exhibition that explores photography as a form of visual poetry. Among the 23 works included in the show are rarely or never-before exhibited photographs, as well as favorites from the collection. The students are participants in the course Art 400, Exploring the Addison, taught by Assistant Curator and Visiting Scholar Stephanie Sparling Williams​.

At the beginning of the course, the students were given an overview of the Addison’s robust photography holdings and began exploring possible themes for an exhibition. In their research, they stumbled upon Robert Frank’s seminal photography book, The Americans, which contains a stunning collection of images from across the country, all of which are part of the Addison’s permanent collection. The foreword, written by poet and friend Jack Kerouac, pointedly observes that Frank “sucked a sad poem right out of America onto film, taking rank among the tragic poets of the world.” Students were intrigued by this connection between poetry and photography. They asked themselves: how does one compare an art form with such a strict definition as the photograph with one possessing such loose bounds as that of poetry? And from what, in Kerouac’s observations, resulted in their compatibility? The students ultimately found that the abstract stories told in photographs were akin to a kind of visual representation, a visual grammar, of poetry.



Lonnie Graham, Hoodie Boy, Pittsburgh, PA​ from Tribal Nations, 1997, 21 7/8 x 16 11/16 in., gelatin silver print, gift of the artist, 2003.10; Bill Owens, Suburbia​, neg. 1972, print 1998, gelatin silver print, 10 x 8 in., gift of Katherine D. and Stephen C. Sherrill (PA 1971, and P 2005, 2007, 2010), 2006.77.43

Through the photography of artists such as Ansel Adams, Dawoud Bey, Gregory Crewdson, Roy DeCarava, and Dorothea Lange, the students’ exhibition also sets out to problematize the false hope offered by the American Dream—a deceptive aspiration that often leaves sadness, depression, and melancholia in its ideological wake. Images included throughout the show are imbued with this melancholia, and range in tone from moments in suburban living rooms to shadows snatched from city street corners. sad poems. confronts sadness head on, and while the task of expressing a totalizing, or even universal representation of sadness is unattainable in this context, the exhibition begins to explore its ubiquitous nature.


​An opening reception for sad poems. was held on Wednesday, November 15, during which Brandon Qi presented a gallery talk. sad poems. will remain on view in the Museum Learning Center through March 4, 2018.