Arts Desk

Reviewed: Louise Rosskam Retrospective at the American University Museum

Louise Rosskam isn’t as well-known as her 1930s and 1940s contemporaries in documentary photography, but this posthumous retrospective revives an unjustly overlooked career. Working largely in black and white, Rosskam and her husband, Edwin, took deep forays into Depression-era America and Puerto Rico, as well as chronicling the education of poor children during the 1960s. One must-see series included in the exhibit features, in breathtaking color, the racially tense (and no longer extant) World War II-era neighborhood in Southwest Washington, D.C. where the couple lived (pictured). Thematically, though, the one inescapable subtext of this retrospective is gender. The exhibit’s title pointedly credits Louise alone, even though it acknowledges that she and her husband were close collaborators over several decades; according to the exhibit, she cared little during her career about which of them received credit, but toward the end of her life (she died in 2003) Rosskam made a point of clarifying the historical record. Though the couple clearly worked harmoniously for years , a viewer can’t help but notice a strong interest in examining gender equality, most notably in a series about towboat crews. The series busts expectations by giving almost equal time to male and female crewmembers, including one memorable married couple who plied the waterways together for years.

Through Dec. 14 at the American University Museum at the Katzen Arts Center, 4400 Massachusetts Ave. NW, Washington, D.C. (202) 885-5950. Open Tue-Sun 11-4.

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