Library exhibit explores humans’ long history of picture making

Photos: Beinecke Library's 'The Power of Pictures'

St. Augustine's "De Civitate Dei" (translated into French), dedicated to Charles V by Raoul de Presles, ca. 1400, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library
Joan Rizo Oliva, "Portolan chart of Mediterranean" (detail), ca. 1580, ink on vellum, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library
Vladimir Mayakovsky, from a series of posters prepared for the Russian Telegraph Agency, Moscow, ca. 1920
Florine Stettheimer, "The Studio Party," undated, oil on canvas, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library
Emory Douglas, "See Revolutionary Art Exhibit," Oakland, 1969
David Plowden, "Grain Elevators," 1971, gelatin silver print, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library
Miguel Gandert, "Photograph of young woman with tattooed back" (detail), 1992, photographic print, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library
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The digital era has brought a proliferation of images into our daily lives, as any user of Facebook, Tumblr or Pinterest can attest. A new exhibition at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, “The Power of Pictures,” explores our long record of image making that began at least 40,000 years ago.

The exhibit, drawn from the library’s own collections, is the third and final exhibition in a series hosted by the Beinecke Library in celebration of its 50th anniversary. It displays the breadth of images in the library’s collections — from woodcuts to photographs, diagrams to cartoons — and shows how pictures, like texts, illuminate what we know about writers, readers, artists, and ourselves, according to its curators.

“We live in what may be the most image-saturated culture ever, but the collections of the Beinecke Library remind us that our contemporary experience has deep historical roots,” exhibition organizers write in an accompanying text for the show. “At least since the time of the oldest surviving cave paintings, humans have created pictures to record their experiences, depict their emotions, and express their ideas. Pictures have been a basis for defining communities — positively and negatively, autonomously and by imposition. They have inspired passions and provoked contemplation. They represent the world as encountered and imagined.”

Specific items on view include ancient photographs by Yale College alumnus David Grant Noble of pictures made on a canyon wall by an unknown Native American artist; a map from an early 15th-century French manuscript of a text by Gaius Sallustius Crispus, a Roman historian and politician from the century before Christ; early and modern photographs of body art; illustrations from St. Thomas More’s prayer book; Tarot and playing cards; costume designs for the Metropolitan Opera and other productions; painted portraits of famed 20th-century artists and writers such as Marcel Duchamp, Marsden Hartley, and Carl Van Vechten by Florine Stettheimer; travel sketches, drawings, and paintings by European artists; images from poet Hilda Doolittle’s scrapbook; post-World War II photographs of African-American life in New York by Roy DeCarava; illustrations for works by Charles Dickens and other noted authors; photographs documenting geological landforms in the American West; and 1960s posters and illustrations defying stereotypes of African Americans by Black Panther Party member Emory Douglas, among many other works.

In addition to exposing the library’s abundant visual resources, “The Power of Pictures” is also meant to encourage faculty, students, and visiting scholars to explore the Beinecke’s collections more fully.

George Miles is the coordinating curator of the exhibition, and Olivia Hillmer is the exhibition assistant.

On view until Dec. 16, “The Power of Pictures” can be seen during library hours: Monday-Thursday, 9 a.m.-7 p.m.; Friday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m.; and Saturday, noon-5 p.m. Admission is free. For more information, visit the library’s website