Facing Ourselves: Mike Disfarmer and the American Portrait
December 16, 2022 — May 14, 2023
Frank Photography Gallery
The work of the rural town photographer Mike Disfarmer provides a starting point for us to ponder, “What makes a portrait?”
Unlike documentary photography, which captures fleeting moments, people, and places, portraiture records a deliberate meeting between a photographer and their subject. The individual’s choice of demeanor, dress, and facial expression reveals much about the sitter and the person behind the camera. This exhibition, featuring six Disfarmer prints newly acquired by the Chrysler Museum, invites a close scrutiny of the personal dynamics within this genre of photography.
Disfarmer operated his portrait studio in downtown Heber Springs, Arkansas, from the 1930s to 1950s, an era of historical significance framed by the Great Depression and World War II. In Facing Ourselves, such artists as Diane Arbus, Richard Avedon, Irving Penn, and James Van Der Zee—some of the best known names in American photography—are featured in dialogue with Disfarmer and one another. The subjects range from well-recognized figures like James Baldwin and Albert Einstein to intimate portraits of the artists’ families and friends. Whether the faces are familiar or unknown, we can see ourselves in the subject and, perhaps, they can tell us something about themselves.