TO AUG. 14

Washington Post photographer Arthur Ellis is famed for his serendipity: He’s the lucky stiff who captured the bolt of lightning that blasted the Washington Monument in 1936. To judge from this retrospective of silver gelatin prints, however, you’d think he spent half his waking hours trailing ballerinas. To his credit, Ellis could make toe points as captivating as he could any subject his editors assigned him: kids in school blowing glass, kids on a fence dressed like cowboys, a chubby kid boxer, kids in bunny costumes rolling Easter eggs at the White House. Facing one of Ellis’ non-child-related prints (At Play is pictured), you can almost hear him sighing in relief through the silver-nitrate molecules. Ellis, who retired in 1977 from the Post after nearly five decades of work, must have been hampered by his choice of camera (a Speed Graphic, visually akin to an early-model Russian satellite), but his platform-equipped staff car gave him a few feet over crowds. The photographer made death, aging actresses, and Eleanor Roosevelt look good—though I like to think his excitement at getting a non-tot shot sometimes got the better of his caption writing. Witness, for example, Ellis’ description for a photogravure that ran on June 16, 1935, as part of his “Capitol Hill Insider” series: “Representative Percy L. Gassaway, Oklahoma Democrat, wears cowboy boots and 10-gallon hats. Tailor-made cigarettes are his only concession to the effete fest.” The show is on view from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday through Monday, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday, and from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday, to Thursday, Aug. 14, at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, 500 17th St. NW. $5. (202) 639-1700. (John Metcalfe)

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