Photography is a passion of Mint president Kathleen Jameson, but she hadn’t dipped into the museum’s little-known collection of 800 images until this year.
The result, her first Mint show as curator, is a tornadic adventure, heavy on nature and portraits but with a variety of other themes whipping past, including noir documentary shots, works of Southern photographers and some whimsical flashes.
There are unseen coincidental factors at work in “Here & Now: 80 Years of Photography at the Mint.” Photography began about 1836, the year work started on the old U.S. Mint in Charlotte, established here because of proximity to the nation’s first gold strike.
It was a century later that the carcass of the old mint was torn down and its materials carted from uptown to Randolph Road. They were reassembled to make North Carolina’s first art museum, which opened with a gala on Oct. 22, 1936.
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Photography has never been a priority at the Mint. Most of its photography has arrived as gifts and has rarely been seen.
Jameson, who arrived at the Mint in 2010, says she was surprised at the treasures to be discovered in the museum’s modest photo portfolio. Her original idea was to display 100 of the pictures; she couldn’t stop herself and the show weighs in at 215.
Women make up about half the photographers in the exhibit, including works from portrait artist Annie Leibovitz, the post-war urban grit captured by Sonia Handelman Meyer and Dorothea Lange’s desperate, jarring images of those trapped in the agrarian catastrophe of Depression-era America.
Detailed prints of the west by Ansel Adams anchor the nature theme running throughout the exhibition, which is book-ended by two studies of trees. Their stark, still profiles are quietly symbolic of the art form evolving and spreading organically after nearly 200 years.
“Here & Now: 80 Years of Photography at the Mint” runs through Sept. 18 at the Mint Museum Uptown, 500 S. Tryon St. Cost: $12 for museum entry plus $6 for special exhibition. 704-337-2000; www.mintmuseum.org.