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Exhibit showcases photographer Frank Stewart’s life work

Rich SchwartzmanCulture, Headlines

Frank Stewart Brandywine River Museum of Art

Photographer Frank Stewart, standing in front of his portrait of jazz pianist Ahmad Jamal, talks to press members at the Brandywine River Museum of Art. Photo by Rich Schwartzman.

For the first time in nine years, the Brandywine River Museum of Art has a photography exhibit on display.

“Frank Stewart’s Nexus: An American Photographer’s Journey, 1960s to the Present” runs through Sept. 22.

He began shooting photos at 14 when he and his mother attended the 1963 Martin Luther King March on Washington, D.C.

Now 75, Stewart said at a press preview that he wanted to be a painter, but photography became his primary art.

“My mother was a painter and I wanted to follow in her footsteps and make her proud of me,” he said. “I started painting and then I found out I was terrible.”

Stewart was impatient with painting, he said, because it took too long, but he could shoot 36 exposures in a short time.

“I could find out how many were terrible right away,” he said.

Frank Stewart Brandywine River Museum of Art

Stewart’s 1997 “Stomping the Blues” is gelatin silver print from the collection of Rob Gibson of Savannah, Georgia.

Amanda Burdan, the museum’s senior curator, said the Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, institution was interested in Stewart’s work partly because it had been nearly a decade since it offered a photography exhibit.

“We want to introduce it in a smart and thoughtful way,” she said.

The last photography exhibit at the Brandywine was James Welling’s “Things Beyond Resemblance” in August of 2015. It featured photos he took of sites painted by artist Andrew Wyeth, source of one of the museum’s core collections.

“One of the things that we are really attracted to in the larger body of Frank’s work is his social consciousness, his intelligent environmental issues,” Burdan said. “That inspired us to get to know his work more, but it’s really a retrospective of his entire career.”

Stewart’s exhibit

The exhibit — co-curated by Ruth Fine, formerly of the National Gallery of Art in D.C., and Fred Moten, a poet, scholar and professor of performance studies at the NYU Tisch School of Fine Arts, along with Burdan — is broken down into seven sections, with representing a theme.

Frank Stewart Brandywine River Museum of Art

“Smoke and the Lovers” taking in Memphis at Hawkins Grill in 1992 is in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.

Rituals, Sound Taste Touch, Africa Caribbean New Orleans: Searching for Roots, Artist Portraits Windows Drawings, Social Practice, Cultures in Color, and Chromatic Music. In all, those themes reflect Stewart’s exploration of life and artistic style.

Fine said the Ritual section of the exhibit starts with him taking pictures of the march and reflects his search for his background.

“When he did those,” she said, “he wasn’t an artist yet. He was at the march with his mother and realized something amazing was going on…Beyond that, the Ritual section includes a lot of work that deals with rituals within the African American community or rituals within the spaces he lived.”

But Stewart’s work goes beyond that. He traveled to New Orleans several times after Hurricane Katrina to document the destruction and the attempts to rebuild sections of the city that had been destroyed.

Frank Stewart Brandywine River Museum of Art

“Number 1” shows how Stewart used an unavoidable light behind Fidel Castro as part of the image composition.,

He’s traveled extensively and was even able to photograph Fidel Castro while in Cuba.

Stewart said he and other photographers and writers were taken to a room and told not to move from where they were sitting. Castro came in and gave a speech.

There was a light that was on in the background behind Castro. Stewarts wasn’t allowed to change locations and shoot from a different angle to avoid the light, so he made it part of the image’s  composition.

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Stewart’s artistic journey has taken him to the streets and clubs to photograph artists, singers, musicians, and everyday people living their lives.

“With this exhibition, we have we have a chance to get a sense of the unlimited range and depth of a contemporary genius,” Moten said in a press release. “[His] combination of loving care for his subjects and thoughtful consideration of his medium is singular and invaluable.”

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