Rebecca Sittler: All the Presidents’ Men and Seafaring Women
Photographer Rebecca Sittler has much to celebrate. Her project, All the Presidents’ Men, received the Innovation in the Documentary Arts Award from the Archive of Documentary Arts this summer; she is a Critical Mass finalist and will have work an upcoming Houston Center for Photography fundraiser. She has also created a book of All the President’s Men available on her site, and on Aint Bad Editions. This project examines how we shape memory and historic narratives in the context of the museum setting, selectively presenting artifacts to create a particular perception.
In addition to creating a significant project, Rebecca and her collaborative partner, Anastasiia Palamarchuk, created The Institute for Inverted Histories (also known as iIh) to bring lesser-known historical narratives surrounding gender, political, and cultural identities to a larger public via publications, public discussions, and designed museum and gallery displays. iIh seeks out contradictory narratives, uncollected bits of larger stories, or reinterpretations of dominant narratives or structures. These projects are united by a strong desire for objects and experiences that acknowledge the mysteries and contradictions that persist among the material traces of history (or history in the making). Their collaborative newspaper project, Seafaring Women, is featured at the end of this post.
Rebecca Sittler is photographer and Associate Professor of Art at California State University, Long Beach. She received her MFA from Massachusetts College of Art in 2003 where she studied with Abelardo Morell. Sittler has exhibited her work at venues such as Sam Lee Gallery, the Photographic Center Northwest, Torrance Museum of Art, the Griffin Museum, Atlantic Center for the Arts, RayKo Gallery, Photographic Resource Center, as well as the University of Florida, Texas Woman’s University, Boston University, and Washington State University. Internationally Sittler’s photographs have been shown in Russia, South Korea, China, and England. In 2015, her series, All the Presidents’ Men recently received the Award for Innovation in the Documentary Arts from the Archive of Documentary Arts at Duke University.
All the Presidents’ Men combines photographs made in presidential museums and historic sites across the United States with images from my father and grandfather’s homes. In 1959, after a spontaneous all-night road trip, my 18-year-old father met former President Harry Truman out for a morning walk on the streets of Independence, Missouri. He doesn’t remember what they talked about, only the thrill of meeting a “powerful”, yet “unassuming” man. Nearly 50 years later, I visited Truman’s presidential museum and noticed there was little evidence of the restlessness and uncertainty that have shaped my father’s generation and characterized Truman’s legacy.
I am intrigued by photography’s increasing role within history museums, where historical narratives intersect with the complexities of photographs, replicas, and ephemera, and are interpreted through the viewer’s imagination and personal experiences. In particular, I see presidential museums as archives of a particular version of American masculinity, informed by American dreams, fictional narratives and political rhetoric. Presidential power is reified and celebrated within the history museum while aspects of presidential identities that are more revealing of their complexity, individual struggles or humanity are rarely or only subtly articulated. These “preferred” heroic narratives have their own blind spots that are also absorbed into our political and personal lives despite the tenuous grasp they hold on the complexities of history and the multifaceted lives of men.
Seafaring Women and the Institute for Inverted Histories are the results of an ongoing collaboration between Anastasiia Palamarchuk and Rebecca Sittler.
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