Courtesy of Yale University Art Gallery

A new installation at the Yale University Art Gallery, “Photographic Storytelling: Photographs from the Permanent Collection,” displays 23 of the gallery’s narrative photographs spanning from the early 19th century to the modern day. 

The installation opened in early January 2024 and is on view on the fourth floor of the Gallery through June 2. The installation is centered around the concept of narrative photography, the idea that a single image can convey a captivating story.

“The atmosphere in these photographs are sometimes playful, sometimes foreboding — both familiar and otherworldly,” Gabriella Svenningsen, senior museum assistant in the gallery’s photography department, wrote to the News. “I am especially thrilled about Echo (2023), an intimate moment between a mother and a daughter, by Genesis Báez, a Yale alumni from Puerto Rico; and Coyote Tales, No. 1 (2017), by the Chemehuevi artist Cara Romero, which evokes both surrealism and classic fairy tales, with a compelling twist.”

From the bright pinks of Tina Barney’s “Jill and Polly in the Bathroom,” taken in 1987, to Edward Steichen’s dark and moody “Self-Portrait with Brush and Palette,” taken in 1903, the installation presents a variety of photographic styles and techniques.

These techniques include staging, lighting, posing and composition, which photographers use to fabricate their narratives and invoke emotion within the viewer. 

“The permanent collection galleries for photography are a relatively new feature in the museum, and it has been so exciting for us to be able to share some works from the collection that we did not have an opportunity to show in the past,” Svenningsen also wrote to the News. “I am especially excited about showing large, framed colorworks, which are usually stored offsite and often difficult to show to classes and individual scholars because of their scale and the logistics that goes into pulling, packing, shipping and handling.”

Stepping off the elevator and walking past the Prints and Drawings galleries, visitors are met with a large image of an Iranian woman staring out of a train window — “Shadi” from the series “Goftare Nik/Good Words” by Shirana Shahbazi. 

Across from it, another 2000 photograph, Wang Qingsong’s “The Night Revels of Lao Li,” is a modern adaptation of a scroll painting from the Tang Dynasty, comparing historical and contemporary power structures. The approximately one-by-eight-foot image includes various scenes in a continuum, with women adorned in bright outfits, carrying out tasks for men such as playing instruments, massaging their shoulders and cutting their hair.

“For the series Untitled Film Stills, made between 1977 and 1980, Cindy Sherman put on guises and photographed herself in cinematic settings. She deliberately selected props to mimic scenes from film stills used to promote B movies of the mid-twentieth century. Images in the series immediately became flashpoints for conversations about feminism, postmodernism, and representation, and they remain Sherman’s best-known works,” Judy Ditner, the associate curator of photography and digital media at the gallery, wrote to the News.

Ditner was primarily responsible for curation of the installation, deciding the character of the installation and planning where the works would be displayed.

Svetlana Frazeur, a security guard at the gallery, told the News that a work by Gregory Crewdson ART ’88 depicting a young man with a makeshift outdoor shelter “sticks out” to her due to some of her friends’ struggles with homelessness. 

Crewdson’s “Untitled” from the series “Beneath the Roses,” is set along a woody riverbank, where the faint glow of a house’s back porch light can be seen at the top left of the image.

“The rotation presents photographs that show the unique but always changing relationship between photography and storytelling, staging, and narration … A photograph is often valued historically or artistically for its ability to document or capture whatever was in front of the camera; but what about those instances in which a photographer constructs or stages (sometimes in elaborate ways) the “scene” in front of the lens?” Daniel Menzo, a fellow at the gallery, wrote to the News.

To complement the installation, a selection of photographs by Allan Chasanoff ’61 is on display at the Gallery’s lower lobby, alongside the display of the book “Seeing and Not Believing: The Photography of Allan Chasanoff” — the first catalog to survey his work.

Dorothea Robertson covers art at Yale. A member of Yale College's Class of 2025, she will receive a B.A. in Religious Studies, focusing on religious art.