Philip Brookman: In the Light of Memory, 1969–2021
Philip Brookman is best known as a curator of photography. He’s earned that title after two decades at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, and more recently at the National Gallery of Art. In that capacity, he’s organized important exhibits on Robert Frank, Emmet Gowin, Sally Mann, and Eadweard Muybridge. But a new exhibit at the American University Museum at the Katzen Arts Center focuses on his own photographs. It spans more than five decades of work in a dizzying and bewildering array of genres and styles. Curated by Milena Kalinovska, the show features portraits of bold-faced names such as Frank, Richard Diebenkorn, Gordon Parks, and Allen Ginsberg, as well as cute kids, street photography, documentary work (including an impressively moody series of images from Cuba made in 2012), and some mysterious diptychs that pair people with places. Brookman skillfully uses blurring in some of his finest works: a 2008 triptych documenting a Senate fundraiser through slow-motion handshakes and backslaps, a 2019 multilayered self-portrait reflected in a window, and a soft-focus image from 2021 showing leaves in pleasant hues of green, pink, and orange. Brookman’s most successful effort at roping diverse styles into a coherent whole comes from the images he used in his 2015 “cinematic novel,” Redlands. The images date from the early 1970s and depict the eponymous city in inland California and its environs; they mix Walker Evans-style depictions of vernacular architecture and the slice-of-life road images of Stephen Shore, right down to their shared, washed-out color palette. As with Shore’s roughly contemporary images, Brookman has waited years to be published in book form. But the wait was worth it. In the Light of Memory runs through Dec. 12 at the American University Museum, 4400 Massachusetts Ave. NW. Open Friday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. american.edu. Free. A virtual gallery talk between Brookman and Kalinovska takes place at 6 p.m. on Nov. 17. Free.