The Smithsonian is an American treasure, full of American treasures. Whether you’ve been there or not, the name Smithsonian points to our collective national history. Within the walls live stories in 3D, a narrative made more whole, more revealing and more resonant by objects preserved. Simply, it is the stuff of moments and eras, and it is really cool.
I’m extraordinarily fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with Smithsonian on a variety of projects …and when I say variety I mean from Judy Garland’s ruby slippers to C3PO to James’ Brown Hammond Organ. Each project with them is a bit like the best day in History class.
On top of all the objects I’m lucky enough to get close to – my projects with the Smithsonian are always unique from a photography standpoint. Because of the sacred/fragile/protected nature of so many artifacts in the Museums, it’s often a dance with the curators in regards to approach. Production solutions range from (but are not limited to) photographing through glass the objects on display, working after hours and under limited time constraints that our created light can be shining on an object. And there is always the challenge of hopefully capturing the beauty or weight of objects, that have been seen so many times, in a way that invites another look.
While I can’t pick a favorite shoot for Smithsonian, photographing the Blood Relics from the Lincoln Assassination sticks with me. Each of the 13 items I photographed alone represents an aspect of that watershed American moment – panic, politics, revenge, compassion and loss. But to see them woven into the full story through the collector’s lens of James L. Swanson in his piece for Smithsonian Magazine, moves them beyond the simply historical. Written for the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s 1865 assassination, you feel his reverence for these artifacts as well as a bigger call to collectively recall.