"Making a Life in Photography: Rollie McKenna" | Visual Art | Hudson Valley | Chronogram Magazine
click to enlarge "Making a Life in Photography: Rollie McKenna"
T. S. Eliot, London, 1950, Rollie McKenna, gelatin silver print Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center, Vassar College, gift of the artist, © the Rosalie Thorne McKenna Foundation, courtesy Center for Creative Photography, the University of Arizona Foundation.

April is the cruelest month / breeding lilacs out of the dead land / mixing Memory and Desire / stirring Dull roots with spring rain." So begins T. S. Eliot's all-time poetic banger, "The Waste Land," which was published in 1922. April's never been the same.

Vassar alum Rosalie (Rollie) Thorne McKenna (1918-2003) made iconic portraits of artists and writers, including W. H. Auden, Dylan Thomas, Elizabeth Bishop, Alexander Calder, and Sylvia Plath. The exhibition "Making a Life in Photography: Rollie McKenna," on view through June 2 at the Lehman Loeb Art Center on the Vassar Campus, features over 100 gelatin silver prints made during the artist's lifetime. Exhibition cocurator Jessica D. Brier provides some context for the Eliot photograph:

"Rollie McKenna described her approach to photographing people as a 'rebellion against studio photography.' Rejecting the tradition of making portraits in a blank studio, or adopting her own signature style, McKenna preferred to photograph subjects like T.S. Eliot in their own spaces in an effort to capture the spirit of a creative individual. In 1950, she photographed Eliot at his desk, thumbing through the pages of a book and surrounded by his personal library, looking up at the camera as though by chance. This was one among many assignments photographing writers in the 1950s, McKenna's bread and butter during those years. During a portrait session, she engaged her subjects in conversation, disarming them with her sense of humor and asking questions to get them talking about their work and passions. This approach produced authentic moments, putting people at ease and making her portraits look effortless."

On April 4 at 5pm, Brier and fellow curator Mary-Kay Lombino will lead an exhibition tour at the Lehman Loeb Art Center. Vassar.edu/theloeb.

Brian K. Mahoney

Brian is the editorial director for the Chronogram Media family of publications. He lives in Kingston with his partner Lee Anne and the rapscallion mutt Clancy.
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