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Richmond in Focus: a series in stills

on September 24, 2019

With the world changing at lightning speed, it may be difficult to keep up with current events, even those in your hometown. For Richmond residents, however, a local exhibition captures scenes of the city as if they are frozen in time.

The Richmond Museum of History is currently displaying a seasonal photography exhibition. Titled “Richmond In Focus,” this exhibit features a variety of about 100 photos capturing life in Richmond from past to present.

The museum and the exhibition are products of its community. About 20 local photographers contributed modern pictures for the show, complementing historic photos and cameras drawn from the museum’s collection.

“All the collections that we have in our museum, from cameras to images … those are all items that have been donated to us by the community,” says Evelyn Santos, community engagement manager for the museum. “So, in many ways, the stories that [we are] able to tell are the stories that have been shared with us.”

At first glance, these exquisite pieces may seem randomly arranged. However, a closer look will show they are aligned on the walls according to the genre: portraits, businesses, street scenes, and landscapes.

Some of the photos depict the same place at different times, which allow the viewer to comprehend that all worldly things are transitory. Like the iconic Richmond waterfront that has a new ferry service, the contrast between what it was and what it is becomes more apparent.

What grabbed my attention was a photo entitled, “Bab’s Milk.” The photo features a signboard of a drive-through dairy that was taken in the late 1970s and is currently owned by the Richmond Museum of History. There are two other pieces lined up in a column by two photographers in the 2010s capturing the same signboard. Words on the sign are easy to see in the oldest photo, while not as visible in the second oldest photo. The latter one displays completely different words on the same sign, offering every detail of the ups and downs of a local business.

The exhibit aims to provide a communicative platform with visitors. With Post-it Notes close at hand, viewers can put their thoughts or perspectives on the wall, while seeing how others interpret the pieces.  “We’re trying to find a way to make it interactive,” says Victoria Stuhr, collections and museum technician.

Some of the photographs are taken with professional cameras like Canon and Nikon, but others with an iPhone. “That’s just comparing, then and now, how accessible photography has become,” Stuhr says. The composition and thought put into the photos transcend the equipment that is used.

Along with photographs, the show displays cameras from the community. Old cameras are placed in three showcases. One is for professional cameras used to take portraits in a studio. Another features an array of Brownie cameras, a series of low-priced cameras produced by Eastman Kodak Company. And the third case shows other brands of cameras that are Kodak competitors such as those made by Polaroid Corporation and Universal Camera Corporation.

“I think sometimes we forget that we all have our own stories to tell,” says Santos. “We don’t see our lives as [having] value. And this is a representation that you do matter. And you have a story to tell. And that can look in different ways. It could be photography, but it could be through some other means. But the idea is you have your own perspective on the world. And you share that perspective.”

“Richmond In Focus” will be on exhibit until December 29.

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