The Power of Photography – Myths, Secrets, Lies, and Truths: Photography from the Doug McCraw Collection

The Power of Photography Myths, Secrets, Lies, and Truths: Photography from the Doug McCraw Collection

On view June 12 through October 13, 2024

Featuring the work of five artists: Sheila Pree Bright, Liesa Cole, Karen Graffeo, Spider Martin, and Hank Willis Thomas 

The Boca Raton Museum of Art presents Myths, Secrets, Lies, and Truths: Photography from the Doug McCraw Collection (on view June 12 ‒ October 13) featuring five artists:  Sheila Pree Bright, Liesa Cole, Karen Graffeo, Spider Martin and Hank Willis Thomas. The exhibition of 100+ works from the Doug McCraw Collection is an original presentation by the Museum, and was curated by Kathleen Goncharov, the Museum’s Senior Curator. The works explore themes of survival, exposure, concealment, exploitation, race, and cultural-defining design. They include still photography and installations, capturing moments that transcend boundaries of insight, and reveal how fabricated myths can shape our perceptions and distort our beliefs. 

Doug McCraw is the co-founder of one of South Florida’s cultural gems: the FATVillage Arts District which promotes creativity, artist residences, exhibitions, research, and education. “Myths, Secrets, Lies and Truths presents five distinct voices that delve into and illuminate so many aspects of life,” says Irvin Lippman, the Executive Director of the Boca Raton Museum of Art. “Our thanks to Doug McCraw who has built an extraordinary and stimulating collection that will facilitate insightful conversations.” The Boca Raton Museum of Art is located at 501 Plaza Real in Mizner Park, a shopping, dining, entertainment, residential and arts district in downtown Boca Raton (map and directions).

About the Works in this Exhibition

Sheila Pree Bright presents works from her Young Americans series, in which she invited young people, of all backgrounds and in cities across the country, to pose with the flag in ways that felt comfortable (while recording their personal stories of what the flag means to each of them). 

Bright wanted this series to focus on diverse young Americans who are new to the voting system, and who are still exploring ideas of what it means to be American. In some ways, this series by Bright may be the most timely of the exhibition, due to the impending elections and the pivotal youth vote. Bright has appeared in the 2016 feature-length documentary film “Election Day: Lens Across America.” The artist encouraged her subjects to use their own clothing, props and poses to “give them a platform to speak for themselves.” Bright is often described as a “cultural anthropologist.” She especially wanted to examine the attitudes and values of Millennials/Generation Y, (people born in the 1980s through the late 1990s, most often the children of Baby Boomers). The photographs in this series respond to negative portrayals of Millennials in our culture. Museumgoers will hear audio recordings alongside each photo, recordings of her subjects expressing their personal feelings toward the flag. 

Karen Graffeo’s Cuba series is part of an ongoing project expressing the beauty and inventiveness of a culture experiencing many challenges, hardships, and poverty. She photographs moments of everyday life in Cuba with an eye to the vibrant designs, colors, patterns, and textures that reflect the unique spirit and aesthetics of the islanders. Graffeo has traveled extensively, choosing to make work within cultures that both match and contrast her ancestry. She considers her art to be “cultural diplomacy devoted to trust and intersectionality, in service of story and raw, honest visual truth.” One of Graffeo’s works in this exhibition is titled “Santero: Saint Maker,” taken in Cuba in 2020. This photo was honored with the Boynes Artist Award. The striking image is about Afro Cuban worship and pilgrimage rituals. 

Also featured is Graffeo’s photograph titled “Roma girl: no ticket, train of life.” Since 1999, Graffeo has been documenting Roma populations, sometimes called “Gypsies.” Through the lens of her camera, Graffeo has documented their culture at caravans, slums, housing projects, and refugee camps. “It is the poorest of the poor who most need a voice,” says Graffeo. These photos follow the lives of the Roma in Romania and Italy, living in homes they are forced to build by hand from scavenged materials. In her photos, the artist strives to portray the courage and inspiring humanity of the Roma peoples.

Hank Willis Thomas is known for exploring American consumer culture, and the history of how corporate imagery in advertising campaigns showed a lack of respect towards African Americans through the years via print advertisements. His series investigates the subtle and not so subtle ways in which this influential imagery reinforced ideas about race and race relations. Most of the works in this exhibition are from his series titled Unbranded: Reflections in Black by Corporate America. The series explores fifty years of ads that targeted a Black audience or featured Black subjects. Ads starting in 1968 (the year of social and political protest and the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.), through 2008 (the year when the first African American president was elected). 

When looking at these works, the viewer quickly experiences a mind-twist when realizing that Thomas did not actually take these photos. Instead, he has appropriated the images from outdated magazine pages and removed all of the wording, product names, slogans and logos from each ad, keeping only the original photos. This makes the images stand out even more. 

The end result is a reimagined version of each original ad, showing how white ad executives at the time got away with creating these depictions for marketing campaigns. Writing in The Guardian, the art critic Arwa Mahdawi stated: “Thomas’s work ‘unbrands’ advertising: stripping away the commercial context, and leaving the exposed image to speak for itself.” Thomas then pairs a befitting title for each reimagined work, further underscoring how disrespect, stereotypes ‒ and, in some cases, outright racism ‒ were prevalent in advertising aimed at Black Americans. 

Spider Martin was an acclaimed newspaper photojournalist known for his iconic photographs taken during the 1960s Civil Rights movement. Martin’s historic images from the 1965 Selma to Montgomery March documented protests by African Americans demanding the right to vote. While working as a young new photojournalist at The Birmingham News, Martin captured the historic photo Two Minute Warning, showing state troopers about to attack peaceful marchers with batons and tear gas, after the marchers crossed Edmund Pettus Bridge from Selma into Dallas County. The incident was pivotal in the Civil Rights Movement, and is known as Bloody Sunday

Three of Martin’s photographs from that day in 1965 were enlarged to serve as the centerpiece for this exhibition, providing a powerful large-scale emphasis that expresses the drama of this critical moment in history. They are part of a series of photographs titled Selma Is Now. Martin’s collection contains thousands of photographs, clippings and other notes — much of it previously unpublished before it was acquired by the University of Texas. The producers of the movie Selma used Martin’s photographs to recreate scenes for the film.

From the Spider Martin website Often the target of violence himself, Spider stayed on the scene of these Civil Rights protests when he could have asked for relief from his newspaper editors. His bosses at The Birmingham News released Martin from his assignment after Bloody Sunday, hoping it would all go away if they stopped publishing his photos. But Martin won out his argument to stay on, and with his camera covered these activities day by day, event by event. Because of his continual presence in and around Selma, Martin and his camera became easily identifiable targets, despised by racists and public officials whose acts of violence and intimidation suddenly were being exposed. 

Martin faced beatings and death threats to capture through his lens the most iconic images of a movement which changed a region and a nation. He fought back with his camera, and with photographs that didn’t lie. They appeared in national and international publications and were seen around the world. 

Dr. King himself credited his photos with playing a major role in passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. stating: “Spider, we could have marched, we could have protested forever, but if it weren’t for guys like you, it would have been for nothing. The whole world saw your pictures. That’s why the Voting Rights Act passed.”  — Martin Luther King, 1965

Liesa Cole’s photographs, projections, and installations are about those who share secrets and those who keep them. Her works follow the theme that most people are uncomfortable sharing secrets unless they know they can trust someone to keep their confidence. Visitors will hear anonymous people telling secrets that can be funny, tragic, ridiculous, surprising, or sometimes raw and visceral. 

The exhibition also features “Truth” (a blown glass neon sculpture by Cole); her video titled “This is Life;” several archival photographs printed on metal; a projection video titled “Sharing Secrets;” and an installation room of foam and metal, titled “Secrets Room.”

About the Artists

Hank Willis Thomas (b. 1976) is a conceptual artist based in Brooklyn whose work focuses on identity and popular culture. He was born in Plainfield, New Jersey and attended the Duke Ellington School of the Arts as a Museum Studies student. He received a BFA in Photography and Africana studies in 1986 and was awarded honorary doctorates from the Marland Institute College of Art and the Institute for Doctoral Studies in the Visual Arts.

Thomas’ work has been exhibited at the International Center of Photography, NYC; Guggenheim Museum Bilboa, Spain; Musee du qua Branly, Paris; Hong Kong Arts Centre; and the Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art, Netherlands, among many others. 

Thomas is included in the public collections of the Museum of Modern Art (New York); Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum (New York), Whitney Museum of American Art (New York); Brooklyn Museum; High Museum of Art, Atlanta; and the National Museum of Art, Washington, D.C. among others. Awards include the Guggenheim Fellowship (2018), AGO Photography Prize (2017), and the Soros Equality Fellowship (2017). Thomas is a member of the New York City Public Design Commission. 

James “Spider” Martin (1939-2003) was an American photojournalist best known for his documentation of the American Civil Rights Movements, in particular, 1965’s Selma to Montgomery marches. He was born in Fairfield, Alabama. At 5’2”, he was nicknamed “spider” as he would climb trees and church towers to obtain optimal angles for his photographs. 

Martin’s photographs were published in major national and international publications, including: Life Magazine, The Saturday Evening Post, Time Magazine, Der Spiegel, Paris Match, and more. His photographs are in many permanent collections including the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, National Museum of American History and Culture, Washington, D.C., and the Dolph Briscoe Center for American Art in Austin, TX.

Sheila Pree Bright (b. 1967)  is an Atlanta-based, award-winning photographer known for portraying large-scale works that combine a wide-range knowledge of contemporary culture. She received a BS from the University of Missouri in 1998. She moved to Atlanta in 1998, and received an MFA from Georgia State University in 2003. 

In 2006, Bright was awarded the Center Prize at the Santa Fe Center of Photography, and had her first solo show at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta in 2008 which featured the series Young Americans. Her work has also been shown at The Wadsworth Atheneum of Art, in Hartford, CT and The Museum of Contemporary Art, Cleveland, OH. Bright’s work is included in the collections of National Museum of African American History, Washington, D.C.; The BET Collection, NYC; High Museum of Art, Atlanta; de Saisset Museum, Santa Clare University, Sata Clare, CA; Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art, Overland KS; The Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, CT; The Paul Jones Collection, Birmingham AL; and Spellman Museum of Fine Art, Atlanta, among others. 

Liesa Cole (b. 1965) is a photographer, cinematographer, and creative director. Liesa received a degree in Fine Art Photography at Louisiana State University, and enhanced her studies of  Fine Art Photography at the University of Alabama. Her work has been awarded numerous accolades including: the “International Photographer of the Year” award from London’s Photography Master’s Cup; Grand Prize at the International Photography Master’s Conference (Italy); and the International Photographer of the Year award from Photo District News.

Karen Graffeo (b. 1955) Based in Birmingham, AL, Graffeo is a multi-media artist working in the fields of photography, performance, and installation. She holds a BA from Jacksonville State University and an  MA in art education from the University of Alabama, where she also earned MFA degrees in photography and painting. She is a Professor Emeritus of Art at the University of Montevallo. Graffeo is the recipient of a Tanne Foundation award for humanitarian documentary projects within her art practice, and was awarded a Fulbright Senior Scholar appointment to Romania. She has also been awarded grants by the Warhol Foundation and the Alabama Arts Council. Her work is included in public and private collections in Japan, Paris, New York, San Francisco, Ireland, Italy, and Hungary, among others.

About the Museum

Founded by artists, the Boca Raton Museum of Art was established in 1950 as the Art Guild of Boca Raton. The organization has grown, to encompass a Museum, Art School, and Sculpture Garden. As one of South Florida’s leading cultural landmarks, the Museum provides educational programs and a robust exhibition schedule to the community and visitors from around the world.   

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