People

I traveled to the National Mall for Obama’s inauguration fully expecting that the awesome scale of the event would be the most important thing to see, to experience, and to document. What does it look like when two million people jubilantly descend upon a public space like this? My co-conspirator on that project, Renee Athay, and I quickly discovered that it was not in long shots of the multitudes, but only in tight shots of individual faces, that one could fully communicate the power of the event—the reverence for the moment, the joy and disbelief entwined and enveloped in a church-like hush. I later remembered that Dorothea Lange (1895-1965) herself had been a studio photographer before embarking upon her documentary work, and that in fact many of the most revered of her documentary photographs were in fact portraits (one thinks of Migrant Mother or “Drought Refugees, Oklahoma”). This gallery is composed of photographs that seek to capture individuals in history and to convey something of their force and character. The best of them represent meditations on the relationship between individual sensibility and the broad forces of history. mj