Mar
12

A Unique Lens: Photographs from the Smithsonian Family

In an era when social media is ubiquitous and almost three-quarters of adults have smart phones, photography is instantly gratifying. We document the fleeting moments of our lives—the mundane as well as the miraculous—to create our own personal narrative. But an artist can create moments that transcend the personal to suggest larger perspectives and universal connections.

 

Gallery visitors check their phones

In a particularly meta moment, visitors check the photos they have taken with their phones of the photos on display in the Gallery. (Photo by Michael Barnes)

Organized by the Smithsonian Community Committee, A Unique Lens: Photographs from the Smithsonian Family, showcases 28 photographs selected from almost 300 submissions. This juried exhibition, on display at the S. Dillon Ripley Center through next year, reveals a remarkable array of talent. Our photographers, while all part of the Smithsonian family, come from many disciplines and varying points of view.

A Unique Lens is divided into seven categories. Photographers featured in Smithsonian Objects, Smithsonian Places, and Smithsonian People focused their lenses within our walls, laboratories, field sites, and research centers on the Mall and throughout the world. Photographers who found inspiration outside of the Institution are shown in Non-Smithsonian Objects, Non-Smithsonian Places, and Non-Smithsonian People. In the final category, Selfies, the photographers give us a glimpse into their own lives and adventures, both inside and outside of the Smithsonian.

Woman viewing photos on display

A deeply personal perspective can create a universal connection. (Photo by Michael Barnes)

In a welcome address at the opening of the exhibition Feb. 14, Secretary Skorton quoted Jean-Luc Godard, “Photography is truth.”

“But it is more than that,” he continued. “Photography is truth filtered through our own eyes and experiences. It is truth as we choose to capture it, based on our culture, our past, and how we see the world. The photographs shared by our talented employees, interns, and volunteers reflect an impressive array of personalities, backgrounds, and interests. The pictures you see afford us a glimpse into the souls of those who captured them.”

Gallery visitors looking at their phones

David Skorton views the photographs on display in “A Unique Lens: Photographs from the Smithsonian Family.” (Photo by Michale Barnes)

Best in Show

Non-Smithsonian Objects

1st Place

William Cooper
Volunteer Event Photographer
National Air and Space Museum Archives

I took up photography 40 years ago as a hobby to capture the sites during my travels. I enjoy going to aviation museums around the country and photographing the aircraft. I happened to be visiting the Virginia Aviation Museum when they were preparing to move the SR-71 to the Virginia Science Center. The engines had been removed and one was on display inside the museum. I had a unique opportunity to photograph a part of this historic aircraft that is not often on display.

Detail of an SR-71 Engine, Virginia Aviation Museum, Richmond, Virginia.

SR-71 Engine Detail, 2016
William Cooper
Detail of an SR-71 Engine, Virginia Aviation Museum, Richmond, Virginia.

Cooper with his photo

William Cooper
1st Place, Non-Smithsonian Objects
(Photo by Michael Barnes)

2nd Place

Chat Hull
Research Associate, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics;
NAOJ Fellow, National Astronomical Observatory of Japan, Joint ALMA Observatory, Santiago, Chile

On a balmy coastal Florida winter morning, this puddle in the parking lot at the Kennedy Space Center seemed to suit these birds just fine. The overcast lighting allowed me to catch an instant of wild splashing, while still keeping the birds in silhouette (one of my favorite effects). We’re left wondering what the bathers’ companions are thinking as they peer back at their friends through the short-lived shower.

Birds freshen up in the parking lot of the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida.

Bath Time, 2016
Chat Hull
Birds freshen up in the parking lot of the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida.

3rd Place

Karen Keller
Director, Office of Special Events and Protocol

I came upon this boat while hiking on Öland Island and thought it was quite stunning. I was especially drawn to the contrast of the old boat and rusted pipes against the newly flowering plant in the foreground, and the beautiful sky and sea in the background.

A weathered boat rests on the shore of Öland Island, Sweden.

Abandoned Boat, 2016
Karen Keller
A weathered boat rests on the shore of Öland Island, Sweden.

Keller with photo

Karen Keller
3rd Place, Non-Smithsonian Objects
(Photo by Michael Barnes)

Honorable Mention

Paul Matthai
Instructor, Resident Associates Program

The cab of an abandoned International Harvester one-ton truck. On a self-appointed photographic assignment to the American southwest, I happened upon an old one-ton International Harvester flatbed truck abandoned just outside of the entrance to the Petrified Forest National Park. The truck, like the petrified wood in the park, was beautifully preserved by the desert environment, although showing some signs of rust as it aged in place. The high-plains desert, as framed by the truck’s two sets of windows, can hide no secrets.

The cab of an abandoned International Harvester one-ton truck.

Route 160, Arizona, 2000
Paul Matthai
The cab of an abandoned International Harvester one-ton truck.


Non-Smithsonian People

1st Place

Bill Whitcher
Color and Quality Manager, Smithsonian Enterprises

Looking past the obvious, close observation and engagement of the subject was my process here. I captured this image of Frank, who is originally from Boston, while photographing Union Station. I was drawn to Frank because of the large blanket he was wrapped in and walking with. I engaged him in a conversation and we agreed I could take photos for a small contribution. I handed over $2. I had my Fuji Xt-10 at chest level just snapping frames as we conversed. What I really like about the photo is the juxtaposition between the subject and the background: the visual order and planned geometry of the background architecture framing the worn leather skin of a destitute older man.

A portrait of Frank, taken at Union Station for the cost of $2.

Frank from Boston, 2017
Bill Whitcher
A portrait of Frank, taken at Union Station for the cost of $2.

Whitcher with his photo

Bill Whitcher
1st Place, Non-Smithsonian People
(Photo by Michael Barnes)

2nd Place

Melissa Clark
Docent, Smithsonian American Art Museum

In the Suzuki Museum was taken on a 2016 photographic workshop in Japan.

A visitor lost in thought at Tokyo's Suzuki Museum

In the Suzuki Museum, 2016
Melissa Clark
A visitor lost in thought at Tokyo’s Suzuki Museum

Clark with her photo

Melissa Clark
2nd Place, Non-Smithsonian People
(Photo by Michael Barnes)

3rd Place

Susana Raab
Photographer, Anacostia Community Museum

I made this portrait when I was photographing for my long-term project, Consumed, about fast food consumption and its effects in America.  I had been given a grant by the White House News Photographers Association to continue the work and went down to Immokalee, Florida, to photograph tomato pickers. I chose Immokalee because it was the subject of the famed Edward R. Murrow 1960 documentary, Harvest of Shame, and one could see in the intervening fifty years that little had changed in the plight of America’s agricultural migrant workers.

A young girl and her cousin wait after Creole Mass at a Catholic Church in Immokalee, Florida.

Haitian Migrant Daughter, Immokalee, Florida, 2006
Susana Raab
A young girl and her cousin wait after Creole Mass at a Catholic Church in Immokalee, Florida.

Raab with her photo

Susana Raab
3rd Place, Non-Smithsonian People
(Photo by Michael Barnes)

Honorable Mention

Nichole Gantt
Officer, Office of Protection Services

This photograph was taken during a festival celebrating Turkish heritage. I found the unified and carefree environment refreshing. I’ve named it Clouded  Judgement, because the children are innocent but still very aware and exposed in today’s world. Their judgment is tainted by the harsh environment in which we live.

Children hold hands and play together during the annual Turkish Festival on Pennsylvania Avenue.

Clouded Judgement, 2014
Nichole Gantt
Children hold hands and play together during the annual Turkish Festival on Pennsylvania Avenue.

Gantt and her photo

Nichole Gantt
Honorable Mention, Non-Smithsonian People


Non-Smithsonian Places

1st Place

Nicholas Raymond
Photographer, National Museum of Natural History

I’ve been passionate about photography and the visual arts since 2005, and I’m always looking for the next flash of inspiration. I love travel and documenting my adventures. I also enjoy stretching my imagination with digital enhancements, including a special masking technique applied to this image. I gained this invaluable knowledge as a photo volunteer working for the Department of Invertebrate Zoology.

A rugged Icelandic mountain scene is digitally manipulated with vibrant sunset clouds.

Iceland Sunset Motion Fantasy, 2017
Nicholas Raymond
A rugged Icelandic mountain scene is digitally manipulated with vibrant sunset clouds.

2nd Place

Melissa Clark
Docent, Smithsonian American Art Museum

I began taking photographs in 2002, when I changed careers and became a landscape designer. I specialize in landscape and garden photography for landscape designers in the D.C. area but enjoy traveling to capture scenes and people in the U.S. and abroad. Balloons Over Bagan was taken on a 2016 photographic workshop in the Bagan region of Myanmar.

A view of temples and the surrounding landscape at dawn in the Bagan area of Myanmar.

Balloons Over Bagan, 2016
Melissa Clark
A view of temples and the surrounding landscape at dawn in the Bagan area of Myanmar.

3rd Place

Steven Cohn
Industrial Hygienist
Office of Safety, Health, and Environmental Management

This photograph was the reward of a nine-mile hike on the island of Hawaii. The image was captured with a Nikon 500 with a 300mm lens.

Kilauea lava flows into the Pacific.

Hilo METR, 2016
Steven Cohn
Kilauea lava flows into the Pacific.

Cohn with his photo

Steven Cohn
3rd Place, Non-Smithsonian Places
(Photo by Michael Barnes)

Honorable Mention

Katharine Wagner
Book Conservator, Smithsonian Libraries

I took this photo on a trip to Machu Picchu with Smithsonian colleagues Becca Kennedy, Michael Kilby, and Rich Wright. We spent ten days in Peru giving workshops to cultural heritage professionals about flood and fire prevention. This was the start of a long day of climbing the Huchu Picchu and Huayna Picchu mountains, and visiting the citadel site. Many thanks to Smithsonian Institution Archives’ Michael Barnes for recommending the camera I used to take this picture.

The sun rises over Machu Picchu.

Machu Picchu Citadel at Dawn, 2017
Katie Wagner
The sun rises over Machu Picchu.

Wagner and her photo

Katie Wagner
Honorable Mention, Non-Smithsonian Places


Smithsonian Objects

1st Place

Alexandra Joy Reddy
Primate Keeper, National Zoo

One September evening, I observed that expectant mom, Batang, was exhibiting “odd” behavior. Perhaps this was a sign that she was about to give birth? A remote webcam allowed all the keepers to constantly monitor Batang. I live within running distance of the Ape House, so when birth seemed imminent, I dashed there. Upon arrival, I captured this intimate moment. Professionally and personally this was one of the most thrilling moments of my life.

A critically endangered Bornean orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus) mother and newborn.

The Universality of Motherhood, 2016
Alexandra Joy Reddy
A critically endangered Bornean orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus) mother and newborn.

Reddy with her photo

Alexandra Joy Reddy
1st Place, Smithsonian Objects
(Photo by Michael Barnes)

2nd Place

G. David Johnson
Ichthyologist, Curator of Fishes
National Museum of Natural History

The larvae of marine fishes often differ strikingly from the adults, because they exist in a different evolutionary arena (the open ocean plankton) compared to the adults (which settle to the bottom or into the deep sea).  My research on comparative anatomy and evolutionary relationships has always emphasized an ontogenetic perspective, and I am particularly fascinated by the dazzling diversity of larval fishes. I illustrate most of my research papers with color images like this one and find it immensely satisfying.

Six-millimeter larva of the deep-sea Gibberfish, Gibberichthys latifrons.

Gibberichthys latifrons Larva, ca. 2007
G. David Johnson
Six-millimeter larva of the deep-sea Gibberfish, Gibberichthys latifrons.

3rd Place

Fred Cochard
Volunteer, National Museum of Natural History

A burst of color in the centerpiece display of the Smithsonian’s Mary Livingston Ripley Garden, as seen on a late summer afternoon.

Orange flower

Ripley Garden Burst, 2017
Fred Cochard
A burst of color in the centerpiece display of the Smithsonian’s Mary Livingston Ripley Garden, as seen on a late summer afternoon.

Honorable Mention

June Laffey
Intern, Smithsonian Science Education Center

While interning with the Smithsonian, I was exposed to specimens of plants, animals, and even humans! Of all the objects I was able to view, none were more striking than these birds, but the general public will never see their beauty. I wanted to capture it so I could share it with others, and they too could see nature’s seemingly infinite palette of colors.

Bird specimens at the National Museum of Natural History.

Paradise Found, 2017
June Laffey
Bird specimens at the National Museum of Natural History.


Smithsonian People

1st Place

Justina Edwardsen
Special Event Planner, Friends of the National Zoo

A great thing about living in Washington, D.C. is knowing right where to go when the Smithsonian museums open to maximize your fun before the crowds discover you. This particular morning, Asher told me he wanted to fly an airplane, so I knew exactly where we needed to go. I snapped this picture as he dodged enemy airplanes, soared high in the air, and even took a few nose dives in the National Air and Space Museum’s How to Fly exhibit.

Child getting "hands-on" in the How Things Fly exhibition at the National Air and Space Museum.

Asher Flies High, 2017
Justina Edwardsen
Asher getting “hands-on” in the How Things Fly exhibition at the National Air and Space Museum.

Edwardsen with her photo

Justina Edwardsen
First Place, Smithsonian People
(Photo by Michael Barnes)

2nd place

Gail Ashton
Marine Ecologist
Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, San Francisco, California

I had my camera on board to capture images as a record of the marine life that we observed on docks and pontoons around Valdez, Alaska. (We were looking for non-native marine species in the area.) I couldn’t resist capturing the moment when my two colleagues happened to wear the same color pink, which perfectly complemented their orange foulies—foul weather gear worn when wet weather and seawater splashes are expected. Their smiles illustrate where marine scientists are happiest—outdoors on the water!

Marine scientists dressed for the elements in Valdez, Alaska.

Tweedledum and Tweedledee, 2016
Gail Ashton
Marine scientists dressed for the elements in Valdez, Alaska.

3rd Place

Ed Dequina
Vice President, Operations
Smithsonian Enterprises, New York, N.Y.

Michiko and Shola were having so much fun in these chairs that I had to take a picture. This is a glimpse of the camaraderie and diversity of the Smithsonian staff.

Cooper Hewitt and Smithsonian Enterprises colleagues having a great time at the 2017 New York Staff Picnic.

These Chairs Rock!, 2017
Ed Dequina
Cooper Hewitt and Smithsonian Enterprises colleagues having a great time at the 2017 New York Staff Picnic.

Dequina with his photo

Ed Dequina
Third Place, Smithsonian People
(Photo by Michael Barnes)

Honorable Mention

Dawn Zimmerman
Veterinary Medical Officer, Smithsonian Global Health Program
Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute

As part of the Smithsonian’s Global Health Program and the USAID Emerging Pandemic Threats PREDICT project, I work with the Turkana tribe in northern Kenya. This photo was taken during field surveillance efforts to discover novel viruses that could potentially cause a pandemic outbreak. Members of the Turkana tribe assisted our team with the collection of thousands of biological samples from baboons, bats, rodents, and camels in the region.

Turkana tribe members watch Smithsonian researchers conduct field work in northern Kenya.

Women of the Turkana Tribe in Northern Kenya, 2017
Dawn Zimmerman
Turkana tribe members watch Smithsonian researchers conduct field work in northern Kenya.


Smithsonian Places

1st Place

Tony Hare
Machinist, Central Shop
Office of Facilities Management and Reliability

While on the roof of the Patent Office Building completing a motor repair, I saw a storm approaching and thought to myself, “No one sees this roof in this context.” The shape and textures of the view made for something dramatic that few of us get to experience.

Photograph taken on the roof of the Patent Office Building while doing a motor repair.

Roof Structure of the Patent Office Building Before a Storm, 2017
Tony Hare
Photograph taken on the roof of the Patent Office Building while doing a motor repair.

Hare with his photo

Tony Hare
First Place, Smithsonian Places (Photo by Michael Barnes)

2nd Place

Gina Whiteman
Collections Manager
National Museum of African American History and Culture

I find inspiration in architecture and everyday life, in the small details often overlooked in a quick glance. I strive to provide the viewer with a different perspective, a different angle with which to see something they have not seen before.

Inside the Arts and Industries Building, taken during the 2017 Smithsonian Folklife Festival.

Untitled, 2017
Gina Whiteman
Inside the Arts and Industries Building, taken during the 2017 Smithsonian Folklife Festival.

Whiteman with her photo

Gina Whiteman
2nd Place, Smithsonian Places
(Photo by Michael Barnes)

3rd Place

Emily S. Martin
Planetary Scientist, National Air and Space Museum

There are not many places on Earth that serve as good analogs for the icy moons of the outer solar system; features called pit chains forming near the Krafla volcano in northern Iceland are one of the rare exceptions. We spent many long, dusty days driving the countryside doing reconnaissance work, looking for the best localities to make our measurements. Dettifoss was a spectacular place to stretch our legs, and explore many of the natural wonders of Iceland.

Dr. Jennifer Whitten takes a brief a break from field work to visit Dettifoss in northern Iceland.

Untitled, 2017
Emily S. Martin
Dr. Jennifer Whitten takes a brief a break from field work to visit Dettifoss in northern Iceland.

Martin with her photo

Emily Martin
3rd Place, Smithsonian Places
(Photo by Michael Barnes)

Honorable Mention

Michelle Pinsdorf
Vertebrate Fossil Preparator
National Museum of Natural History

A sediment ridge creates a winding path in Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona.

Path to the Quarry, 2015
Michelle Pinsdorf
A sediment ridge creates a winding path in Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona.

Pinsdorf with her photo

Michelle Pinsdorf
Honorable Mention, Smithsonian Places
(Photo by Michael Barnes)


Smithsonian Selfies

1st Place

Kimberly Holzer
Research Associate
Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, Edgewater, Maryland

I love using imagery to collect data and communicate scientific concepts. Taking photographs during fieldwork is a way for me to hone my observation skills, revealing otherwise hidden details that may complete gaps in our understanding. I constantly seek mesmerizing or curious perspectives that stimulate conversation and hopefully connect people more intimately with our research.

Holzer selfie

Shipboard Selfie, 2014
Kim Holzer
The photographer samples ballast water to study the transport of aquatic invasive species.

2nd Place

Nicole K. Thompson
Marketing Specialist, Smithsonian Enterprises

I desperately wanted to visit Australia so I could hang out with kangaroos (and I guess to see my friends as well), so we took a trip to Rainforestation Nature Park. Although it was 110 degrees Fahrenheit outside, I could not have been happier. It was pure joy to roll around in the dirt with these little guys all day. 10/10 recommend!

Thompson selfie with kangaroo

Goes to Australia Once…, 2017
Nicole K. Thompson
The photographer hanging out with her new friend Kanga in Cairns, Australia.

3rd Place

William Cooper
Volunteer Event Photographer
National Air and Space Museum Archives

I took up photography 40 years ago as a hobby to capture the sites during my travels. Now I am able to apply what I have learned to help the National Air and Space Museum document special events. In this case, I was outside Udvar-Hazy shooting the various special and antique aircraft that had flown in for Innovations in Flight in 2016. When looking up at the north side of the museum, I could see myself and some of the aircraft reflected in a unique way and decided to capture the image.

The photographer captures himself in a reflection while photographing the outside the Udvar-Hazy Museum.

Untitled, 2016
William Cooper
The photographer captures himself in a reflection while photographing the outside the Udvar-Hazy Museum.

Honorable Mention

Matt Williams
Science Writer, Smithsonian Science Education Center

Sundays often feel like the calm between storms. They’re moments of peace and reflection—a time to think about what it means to be alive and what being alive means. They’re also a treasured chance to simply stop and breathe. This image seeks to make permanent this always passing moment; to show what the Sundaze feels like.

Williams selfie lying in bed

Sundaze, 2013
Matthew Williams
The photographer stuck in bed and stuck in thought.

Dr. David Skorton
Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution

Skorton Selfie

Dr. Skorton provides a glimpse into his office with a selfie of his own.

Jurors

Matthew Breitbart
Photographer, Walter Reed Medical Museum

Melissa Keiser
Photo Archivist, National Air and Space Museum Archives

Hugh Talman
Photographer, National Museum of American History

Smithsonian Community Committee, Photo Show Team

Susan Ades
Smithsonian Exhibits

Karen Gardiner
Smithsonian Enterprises

Dennis Hasch
National Museum of Natural History

Eric Long
National Air and Space Museum

Laurie Penland
Smithsonian Scientific Diving Program


Posted: 12 March 2018
About the Author:

Alex di Giovanni has been editing The Torch since August 2006. Prior to joining the Smithsonian, she worked as a writer and editor for the National Geographic Society, Plexus Scientific, The Nature Conservancy, The National Foreign Language Center and St. Martin’s Press, among others. She has the best job in the world.