“Faces of the Frontier: Photographic Portraits from the American West, 1845–1924” is as magisterial as its title suggests. The portrait subjects span two centuries—born as early as 1782 (Sen. Thomas Hart Benton) and dying as late as 1983 (Gloria Swanson)—and they include not just the famous (Sam Houston, John Brown, Mark Twain, Buffalo Bill, Geronimo) but also dozens of obscure, fascinating characters, deftly synopsized in smart captions. Many of the most interesting discoveries are women (proto-political-wife Jessie Benton Fremont, disaffected Brigham Young wife no. 19 Ann Eliza Young, fierce-looking bank robber Laura Bullion, child kidnapee Olive Oatman). The exhibit’s four subheadings are arbitrary and overlapping, but organizational shortcomings are outweighed by the diversity of imagery, from daguerreotypes and salted paper prints to tintypes.
THE EXHIBITION IS ON VIEW FROM 11:30 A.M.-6 P.M. DAILY TO JAN. 24, 2010, AT THE NATIONAL PORTRAIT GALLERY, 750 9th STREET NW. FREE. (202) 332-8767.