Photography and Belonging

Representing a range of photographic practices, these works from the Princeton University Art Museum collection explore how the human experiences of belonging and alienation have long been both subject and effect of photography. Since the announcement of the technology’s invention in 1839, photographers have sought to depict human relationships and social dynamics. At the same time, the practices of taking and viewing photographs have themselves structured new relationships between photographer, subject, and viewer. Considering the different motives of these participants can raise important questions about the ethics of the photographic encounter. As the link between subject and viewer, what responsibilities fall on the photographer? How do subjects assert their own right to speak?

Situated among a myriad of historical examples, this installation highlights three photographers for whom experiences of inclusion and exclusion were an essential interest. Lewis Hine's documents of early-20th century immigrants in New York, Roman Vishniac's portrayal of European Jewish communities in the years before the Holocaust, and Fazal Sheikh's collaborative portraits of displaced persons in recent decades foreground both the struggle and dignity of marginalized groups. In a time when photographs saturate our social lives to an ever-increasing extent, these images invite us to consider both the empathetic promise and potential pitfalls of the medium.