Every five years, the Wittliff Collections displays an exhibition highlighting a selection of works either purchased by or gifted to the museum over that time period. Its most recent exhibition, dubbed Coming to Light, features 42 internationally acclaimed photographs that are being shown by the Wittliff for the first time.
Most of the photographs were either donated by the artists themselves or purchased by the Wittliff. The photos are generally grouped together by theme. Themes include nature, animals, Mexican history and culture, while a miscellaneous wall features fun, engaging pieces.
The show’s main curator, Carla Ellard, highlighted a few of the show’s main features, including an attention-catching piece by Kate Breakey. Breakey is usually known for hand-painting photographs, particularly in a series called “Small Deaths” in which she took black and white photos of deceased animals, enlarged the photos and then hand-painted them.
The image displayed at the exhibition, however, is of a one-eyed fox Breakey captured with a motion sensor camera. Instead of hand-painting over the entire image, she only used pencil. Ellard said the piece in particular highlight’s the shows theme “Coming to Light” because the camera’s flash in the fox’s single eye shows that he was literally walking into the light.
Having collected many of Breakey’s pieces, Ellard said “it’s fun to see photographers grow, even if they’ve been in the industry for years.”
Another moving piece is a six-panel work of art by native Texan photographer Kathy Vargas. The piece is comprised of images of newspaper from one of Vargas’ purchases of Guatemalan artwork. One part of the paper was an ad written by a family who had been abandoned by their father during the Guatemalan disappearances in the early 1990s. Vargas took the newspaper, superimposed her own images onto it and hand-wrote political sentiments like “Did I take him from her simply for paying my taxes?” which heightened the piece’s political immediacy.
The collection also features an image from Lee Friedlander, who, although he isn’t a southwestern or Mexican photographer, has his image of Lyndon Johnson in the gallery because of LBJ’s connection to Texas State.
Jeff Wilson also has a featured image of the Texas State Football Stadium that was part of his series of high school football fields.
Ellard said the whole exhibition took about a semester to bring together and that it features both traditional black-and-white gelatin prints and digital ones.
“With the transition of photography leaning more towards digital prints over the last decade, we decided to include more digital prints in our collection,” Ellard said.
Since the last exhibition of this kind in 2009, the Wittliff has acquired over 1500 photographs, and Coming to Light is a representation of 42 of the best images.
Ellard said it would be impossible for her to pick a favorite. She will leave that to the students, who she feels have received the exhibition very well.