Explore facets of American history through the photographs of Frances Benjamin Johnston and Keris Salmon, two artists working nearly a century apart, who captured enduring images of Southern architecture.
One of America’s first female photojournalists, Johnston documented early American architecture in the South in the 1930s. Although she captured elegiac views of stately manors and crumbling interiors, Johnston was equally intent on recording vernacular structures, including cabins, barns, taverns, mills, and dwellings built by and for enslaved people.
In 1936, VMFA purchased and exhibited more than 150 photographs by Johnston and they remain a treasured part of the collection. Last year, the museum acquired Keris Salmon’s series To Have and To Hold, photographs of former plantations and homes of slave-owning individuals in the United States and Caribbean islands. Salmon explores and imagines the lives of both the enslaved and enslavers by juxtaposing quiet, luminous views of interior and exterior scenes with texts she culled from a variety of archival sources, including ledgers, diaries, legal documents, accounting logs, interviews, and slave auction records.
This exhibition is curated by Dr. Sarah Kennel, VMFA’s Aaron Siskind Curator of Photography and Director of the Raysor Center.
Upshur Old Hall (detail), ca. 1930-36, Frances Benjamin Johnston (American, 1864-1952), gelatin silver print. Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Gift of the Carnegie Corporation, 184.108.40.206
To Have and to Hold, 2020, Keris Salmon (American, born 1959), inkjet print with letterpress. Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Holt Massey by exchange, Aldine S Harman Endowment Fund, and Eric and Jeanette Lipman Fund, 2021.602.1