Report by Laila Ali, Copyright 2012
An Exploration: The White House Gate
In this photograph report, I plan to examine a piece called the White House Gate created by Rosalind Solomon. I will start with the biography of the photographer, Rosalind Solomon. After, I will explain how print quality, print materials, and print size impacts the image of The White House Gates image. Then I will claim that The White House Gate image is best categorized as its dominant formal characteristics as defined in John Szarkowski’s book: The Photographer’s Eye the detail. Lastly, I will conclude with how the other components Szarkowski mentioned will shape the photograph.
Rosalind Solomon: Biographical and Historical Context
Rosalind Fox Solomon was born on April 2 in 1930, at Highland Park, Illinois. She is an American artist, established in New York City, known for her portraits and connections to human suffering, ritual, and survival. Solomon attended Highland Park High School and graduated in 1947. She then attended Goucher College in Baltimore, Maryland, and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science in 1951. Then, Solomon got married and moved to Chattanooga, Tennessee. She then later divorced 63 years later after having two children. In 1968, Solomon began her photography work. She occasionally studied with Lisette Model, whose an Austrian-born American photographer primarily known for her frank humanism on her street photography from 1971 to 1977.
Before Solomon started to get into photography, she became the Southern Regional Director of the Experiment in International Living. She visited communities throughout the Southern United States, where she recruited families to host international guests to build on cross-culture in a personal way. Through her volunteer work with the Experiment in International Living, Solomon got the opportunity to travel to Japan, where Solomon stayed with a family near Tokyo. Later, when Solomon was 38 years old, she began to use an Instamatic camera to convey her feelings and ideas, which was a turning point in her career and life experience in photography.
In 1977 and 1978, Solomon moved to Washington where she photographed artists and politicians for her project series “Outside the White House”. Within this series, she photographed “The White House Gate”, the one I will later be exploring. This project lasted for about two years. Later on, in 1978, John Szarkowski included her work in the exhibition Mirrors and Windows at the Museum of Modern Art and presented examples from her Dolls and Mannequins series in the show. The use of dolls, children, and mannequins was some of the items she used as her subject. Also, Szarkowski selected 50 of her pictures to be part of the MoMA’s permanent collection. Her pictures appeared over the years in many different group exhibitions at the MoMA such as American Children, American Politicians, Pictures by Women: A History of Modern Photography, and The Original Copy: Sculpture in Photography 1839. Recently, the MoMA included her work in the anthology Photography at MoMA: 1960—Now, and curator, Peter Eleey, even dedicated a room to present her art pieces at MoMA PS1 in the Greater New York 2015 exhibition. Ultimately, this led to the rise of her as a photographer and the beginning of her work internationally like Peru, India, Germany, Zimbabwe, South Africa, etc.
Overall, Solomon’s work circulates between the personal and the universe as a whole. Her expertise is in her interpretation skill and the ability to take a snapshot of both social elements of the places she travels. In 2019, her artwork was recognized by receiving the Lifetime Achievement Award from the International Center for Photography. Over the past 45 years, Solomon has created inspirational work, presented in almost 30 solo exhibitions, about 100 group exhibitions, and in the collection of over 50 museums worldwide.
Medium and Presentation
As mentioned, Solomon worked on the “Outside the White House” series. In this series, Solomon created a piece called “The White House Gate” in 1977. The photograph is present in the Jane Lutnick Fine Arts Center at Haverford College. This image is a gelatin silver bromide print. A gelatin silver print can be sharply defined and detailed based on the light sensitivity to the silver halides. Also, this type of print can last several hundred years. The picture has a strong negative, specifically on the gate, which is probably due to the silver chloride to darken the gates and make the gate pop in the image.
The dimension of the picture is 15” x 15” (38 cm by 38 cm). The photograph is generally a regular size. But, it’s over matted with a beveled-shaped edge around the image. So it allows the viewer to focus more on the White House gate. Overall, the purchase of the photograph was through a Patrons of Art gift in May 1986.
“The Detail” in The White House Gate
In the book, the Photographer’s Eye, John Szarkowski describes an overview of the fundamental difficulties and opportunities of the photographs. In the introduction of the book, he offers a brief historical overview of photography, specifically how photography has evolved over the years and how he views it as a unique characteristic. Szarkowski begins the book by stating that “the invention of photography provided a radically new picture-making process- a process based not on synthesis but selection. The difference was a basic one. Paintings were made-constructed from a storehouse of traditional schemes and skills and attitudes-but photographs, as the man on the street put it, were taken” (1). This led to the posed question – how can the process of photography be used in creating meaningful/significant pictures and valid art? In the book, Szarkowski argues that photography has a unique place within the broader world of artistic practice. Throughout the book, Szarkowski discusses and provides exemplar photographs of characteristics of the medium that is represented as a form of art but does not define discrete categories of artwork. He states five main characteristics: the thing itself, the detail, the frame, time, and vantage point that are important for the creation of eloquent photography.
According to The Photographer’s Eye, Szarowski would say that the photograph of the White House Gate would be a picture representing “the detail”. The idea of “the detail” photography connects to depicting reality and depicting reality as it happens, in front of the photographer. The photography can not really “pose the truth”, but can capture snippets of the truth as it unfolds. So, the photographer needs to be content with representing the details of a narrative or an event, rather than trying to represent the whole thing.
In The White House Gate image, Solomon shows us different parts of the image. In the photograph, Solomon focuses on multiple details. One detail is the picture being taken in 1977 in front of the White House Gate at Washington, District of Columbia, US. The photograph displays the northwest gate of the White House during a snowstorm. The photograph shows that it was currently snowing as it was taken. In the picture, we see snowflakes falling as well as sticking to the gate and the ground. This detail informs the viewer of the time/season it occurred, which captured a fragment in depicting reality.
Another fragment is the tire marks on the ground. The tire marks are emphasizing that a car must have recently entire the White House before Solomon took this picture. Or Solomon could have intentionally had a car drive into the White House before she took the picture. This is another fragment that part takes in bringing the whole picture together.
Lastly, the darkness of the gate of the White House is a vital detail for the narrative. The strong negative of the photograph helps bring viewer attention to the gate and what surrounds the gate. Ultimately, through all these different elements and details, Solomon is portraying a form of a statement.
The Thing Itself, The Frame, Time, Vantage Point
In The Photographer’s Eye, Szarkowski states that the first characteristic is the thing itself. The “thing itself” means that photography provides a representation of the real world. Photographers focus on divulging what already exists. In the White House Gate image, Rosalind Solomon emphasizes a place that already exists. Specifically, that is very known to the US population and others around the world. But in the picture, she decided to center the image on the gate instead of the actual White House buildings itself.
Next, the “frame” refers to the edge and the border between the elements of the real scene that the photographer decided to include, and what they decided not to include. Solomon chooses to focus the photograph on the frame, specifically on the White House gate when viewers first see the image.
The fourth characteristic is “time” which provides the photographed location over time. Furthermore, the photographs can not directly represent the past or the future but can imply it. In The Photographer’s Eye, Szarkowski mentions two ways that time exposure produces images and insight. The first one is long time exposure and, the second one is a short time exposure. In the White House Gate image, we see time play a role with the snow falling and car tire marks in the snow. The snow informs us of what season it currently was when the picture was taken; which was winter and, the time the picture was taken it was snowing.
Finally, Szarkowski identifies the “vantage point.” The vantage point is when the photograph shows us the world from a variety of unusual angles and perspectives, which can alter our perspective of the world. Solomon portrays the image of the White House gate through a unique vantage point that can allow viewers to interpret the image in many different ways.
Biography. Rosalind Fox Solomon, Accessed March 22, 2021, www.rosalindfoxsolomon.com/bio
Rosalind Fox Solomon. (2021, January 30). Accessed March 22, 2021, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rosalind_Fox_Solomon
White House Gate, Washington, D.C. (Getty Museum). (1977, January 01). Accessed April 04, 2021, http://www.getty.edu/art/collection/objects/128245/rosalind-solomon-white-house-gate-washington-dc-american-1977/
Szarkowski, John. The Photographer’s Eye. New York: Museum of Modern Art, 2009.
About The Author: Laila Ali is a junior enrolled at Bryn Mawr College. Class of 2022.