Arts Desk

Reviewed: “Close to Home: Photographers and Their Families” at the Smithsonian American Art Museum

When you think of photographers who document their families, Sally Mann immediately leaps to mind. Wisely, “Close to Home” chooses to spotlight a half-dozen other photographers, most of whom are less widely known. Virginia Beahan’s photographs of her elderly mother are grippingly intense, several of them with her eyes closed seemingly almost to the point of death. Christopher Dawson offers cleverly stitched-together, wide-field images in which family members sometimes appear more than once. Martina Lopez toys with the idea of ancestral authenticity by producing mythical family-history portraits that use a pastiche of anonymous, old-fashioned images. Carrie Will tweaks the Arbusian trope of identical twins by participating in her own dour images along with her twin. But the exhibit’s clear standout is Elaine O’Neil, who photographed herself and her daughter Julia Hess every day for five years, beginning when Julia was 10. The selection of 10 images, despite being frustratingly limited, impresses for its visual variety, with mother and daughter offering a range of seemingly unforced interactions. Above all, mother and daughter deserve credit for the sheer dedication their longitudinal project required:  It’s hard to imagine anyone but family agreeing to do it.

Through July 24 at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, (202) 633-1000. Daily, 11:30 to 7:00.

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