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Telfair Museums organizes major American photography exhibition
Youthful Adventures highlights iconic images by Parks, Levitt, Davidson, and 22 others
SAVANNAH, GA (October 13, 2020) — Telfair Museums is showing off some of the finest photographs from its extensive permanent collection, alongside select others, in a new survey of American photography with a special focus on youth.
Youthful Adventures: Growing Up in Photography, which will be on view at the Jepson Center until April 2021, explores coming of age through the lenses of some of the biggest names in the medium, including Gordon Parks, Helen Levitt, and Bruce Davidson.
“The many images in this exhibition celebrate the diversity and magic of childhood,” said Erin Dunn, Telfair’s associate curator of modern and contemporary art, who organized the exhibition, “those moments of shared connection and experience that bring us all together across time and place.”
Several of the photographs highlight the spirit of youth in protests, from the Civil Rights Movement to the present day, or draw attention to inequality as seen through the eyes of children. Two iconic images by Parks (1912-2006), on loan to Telfair from the Do Good Fund, depict scenes of segregation in the Jim Crow South. Davidson and Frederick Baldwin illuminate young people’s role in Civil Rights protests in Selma and Savannah in the 1960s, and Sheila Pree Bright’s colorful portraits of youth posing with the American flag reflect diverse experiences of developing one’s identity.
“Whether the child in the photograph is from 1940 or 2019, or living in Tampa or upstate Pennsylvania, the photographers featured in the exhibition capture the complicated yet compelling narrative of what it means to grow up, an experience we all can relate to,” Dunn said.
The exhibition includes five photographs by Levitt (1913-2009), the important New York street photographer who Artforum magazine called “the most celebrated and least known photographer of her time.” Forty-two of her works are in Telfair’s permanent collection—41 photographs and one film—and the museum owes her much of the credit for its significant American photography holdings. Levitt’s late brother Dr. Robert O. Levitt and his wife, Kathy, lived in Savannah and introduced his sister to Telfair.
“Both Helen and Kathy helped establish the photography collection in 1996 with the photography of Helen Levitt, and many of the other photographers in the collection had close ties to Levitt and found their way to Telfair’s collection through her influence,” Dunn explained. “Kathy is still actively donating work for the collection today,” Dunn added, and for the past 20 years has sponsored annual Telfair photography camps for area youth. Recently, Levitt also has been instrumental, alongside Mimi Muray Levitt, in helping the museum acquire several images of the Mexican painter Frida Kahlo by Hungarian-born American photographer Nickolas Muray (1892-1965).
“I made a naming gift for a gallery at the Jepson Center in memory of both my husband and of Helen,” Kathy Levitt said, “so photography would have a permanent exhibition space at the museum. I am so pleased that Telfair has taken the lead on photography as an art form.”
The nine works by Davidson in Youthful Adventures came to Telfair in 2018 as part of an anonymous donation of 347 of his photographs. Dunn is organizing a major survey, Bruce Davidson: Face to Face, that will present over 100 of his photographs at the Jepson Center in 2022.
“Like many people, I’m still getting acquainted with our phenomenal holdings of American photography,” said Bob Faircloth, Telfair’s acting director since April. “Since she first joined us in 2014, Erin Dunn has lent her considerable expertise to helping us showcase the strength of our collection and travel it to other U.S. museums. I’m proud to say Telfair has one of the very best collections of photography anywhere in the country.”
Youthful Adventures is accompanied by the Youthful Voices Writing Showcase, a partnership between Telfair, the Deep Center, and Savannah-Chatham County Public Schools in which local students were asked to respond in creative writing to selected works in the exhibition.
About Telfair Museums:
Opened in 1886, Telfair Museums is the oldest public art museum in the South and the first U.S. museum founded by a woman. The museum features a world-class art collection in the heart of Savannah’s National Historic Landmark District and encompasses three sites: the Jepson Center for the Arts, the Owens-Thomas House & Slave Quarters, and the Telfair Academy. Two National Historic Landmarks—the Telfair Academy and the Owens-Thomas House & Slave Quarters—showcase the complicated history of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Americans, free and enslaved, who lived and toiled in Savannah. The Jepson Center houses the museum’s more than 7,000-work permanent collection, including important works of American Impressionism and the Ashcan School; the largest collection of Kahlil Gibran’s visual art in the United States; seminal twentieth-century photography by Walker Evans, Helen Levitt, and Bruce Davidson; and essential works by contemporary artists in the museum’s Kirk Varnedoe Collection. For more information on Telfair Museums, visit telfair.org.