Opening Thoughts by Mia Toledo

The Herbert F. Johnson Museum

As HAMS sifts through the museum’s collection with the hope of pinpointing a theme for our Spring show, I can’t help but take particular interest in Lotte Jacobi’s work. Our investigation through the Johnson’s selection has led us to think about “celebrity” as a large umbrella topic – artists being photographed by other artists, the circumstances that make a photo famous, controversy through photography, famous places or time periods – which leads me to Jacobi’s work because of its celebrity-oriented nature. As a passionate photographer Jacobi’s range of images includes portraits of prominent figures, providing an intriguing perspective on well-known names whose faces we might not usually recognize. The list of celebrities that she had the opportunity to shoot is long, but the ones we have here at Cornell to choose from include Albert Einstein, Robert Frost, Käthe Kollwitz and Max Liebermann. Although Einstein’s face is obviously instantly recognizable, she shot him in places and situations that we don’t usually see him in – standing in his living room with his wife, for instance. The other three, Frost, Kollwitz and Liebermann, are equally as interesting. Before seeing these photographs the majority of viewers probably will not have known what these influential people actually looked like. We might know a name, or an iconic image, or a piece of produced work; but the idea that we have the notion of “celebrity” regarding certain people without knowing who they are, is a vastly intriguing one.

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