We Shall: Photographs by Paul D'Amato

September 12 – November 24

/ 2013

For twenty-some years, the photographer Paul D’Amato has chronicled dramas large and small in the lives of ordinary people. Formally elegant, his piercing portraits explore the nuances of character, while his studies of the built environment reveal the traces of human presence in vivid color and texture. In 2004, spurred by questions about race, class, and the dynamic between photographer and subject, D’Amato began photographing in the African-American communities of Chicago’s West Side. The project We Shall documents the neighborhood’s inhabitants and domiciles – arresting portraits, selective interior scenes, and studies of the minutiae of everyday life. Neither feel-good narratives nor stories of despair, these photographs convey the complexity and ambiguities of life in a community that is both economically and socially marginalized, with few available avenues to make known its presence, its concerns, and its reality.

Through a commitment to his craft and a dedication to immersing himself in the community, D’Amato aspires to narrow the divide between his own subjective experience and the lived reality of his subjects to create photographs that are at once genuine and aesthetically engaging. His photographs build in subtle ways on disparate art historical traditions, alluding to nineteenth-century approaches to portraiture as studies of individual gravitas, as well as the formal complexity of Abstract Expressionism. D’Amato’s work grapples with the limitations of photography to convey a narrative or express a definitive fact. How does a photographer, an artist, reconcile the opposing truths that every photograph is at once an aesthetic interpretation, and also a representation of someone or something that does in fact inhabit the real world? The narratives contained in his images, though compositionally rigorous, rich in detail, and wrought with emotion, are ultimately ambivalent and far from complete.

This exhibition is supported by generous grants from the David C. and Sarajean Ruttenberg Arts Foundation and the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation.

A companion publication for this exhibition is available for sale at the museum and online.