Chance Encounters: Photographs from the Collection of Norman Carr and Carolyn Kinder Carr
Chance Encounters featured the collection of Washington, D.C. residents Norman Carr and CarolynKinder Carr. Their exceptional holdings provide a rich overview of the genreof street photography, from its origins in the early years of the 20th centuryto its apotheosis in the 1970s. The exhibition featured more than 50 photographs,including important images by such pre-eminent American and European photographersas Diane Arbus, Harry Callahan, Robert Capa, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Walker Evans,Robert Frank, Lee Friedlander, Lewis Hine, Dorothea Lange, Lisette Model, PaulStrand, and Garry Winogrand. Combining humanist depiction of everyday life witha fascination for chaos and accidental juxtapositions, the photographsin Chance Encountersrevealed the range of approaches photographers havetakenwhen representing the city street.
With the initial encouragement of John Coplans, the famous photographer, curator, and editor of Artforum, the Carrs began collecting photographs in 1978, when the auction and gallery market for photography was relatively new. Among their first acquisitions were works by tabloid photographer Weegee (Arthur Fellig). Over time, the Carrs acquired 73 photographs by this legendary photographer, assembling one of the best and most comprehensive private collections of his work. Chance Encounters featured several of Weegee’s sensational photographs.
The Carr Collection includes many important works—undisputed masterpieces—and it also holds surprises. Early works by Lewis Hine and Paul Strand reveal the genre’s origins in turn-of-the-century social justice and humanism. Photographers generally excluded from the canon of street photography, such as August Sander and Ralph Eugene Meatyard, appear in a new light when considered alongside acknowledged contributors to the form. Lesser-known figures like Leon Levinstein are revealed as innovative pioneers.
While building their collection, the Carrs reared two children and pursued careers well matched to their avocation. Norman Carr was a trial lawyer in Akron, Ohio for 40 years. His tenacity, patience, and critical intelligence—useful in his legal career—are of equal value in photography collecting. Carolyn Kinder Carr, an art historian, is deputy director and chief curator of the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the National Portrait Gallery, she taught art history at Kent State University and the University of Akron and was chief curator at the Akron Art Museum in Ohio from 1978 to 1983.
Many of the best photography collectors are those who act with the knowledge and passion of practitioners and historians. Driven by their fascinations, they acquire the subjects of photographs as much as they collect the objects themselves, seeing the medium as a window on the world. By focusing on the city street, Norman Carr and Carolyn Kinder Carr were able to assemble a visual history of an important genre. Seen together in Chance Encounters, the photographs in their collection revealed the vitality and unpredictability of everyday life in the streets, through the eyes of some of our greatest photographers.