Since its invention, photography has played a critical role in recording the world. Consider the number of photographic images you view each day in print, on TV, on your phone, and online; the images in this gallery were all taken in the pre-digital era. The artists in The Subtle Power of Photographs: A Private Collection have been variously labeled photojournalists, documentarians, pictorialists, or fine art photographers. Each artist utilized the camera to evoke emotion, capturing subtle tonal concerns, interesting compositions, and the juxtaposition of light and shadow. The works offer an opportunity to trace a timeline of interconnectedness within the history of photography: who influenced or studied with whom, and how each artist infused new elements into the medium.
This collection, thoughtfully shaped by Walter and Sally Rugaber, spans over one hundred years from the mid-19th century through the 1960s Civil Rights era and beyond. The works on view capture street scenes of old Paris and the grand architectural plans of British cathedrals; children laboring in factories; scenes of rural America; sensitive portraits of Depression-era farmers, miners, and their families; and Civil Rights era sit-ins. These are interspersed with laconic still lifes, quiet portraits, and hauntingly beautiful “sense of place” landscapes. Many artists in this collection used images to address social justice issues. All are images of wonderment, beauty, and discord where the banal becomes a fascinating slice of life and simplicity is celebrated.
Walter and Sally Rugaber are longtime supporters of the arts in the Roanoke valley. They each began their respective careers in journalism and met while working at The Atlanta Journal. They have lived in southwest Virginia since 1982, during which time Mr. Rugaber worked as publisher and president of The Roanoke Times and Landmark Publishing Group. The Rugabers’ background in journalism and social concerns may have influenced their collecting choices. As Mrs. Rugaber notes, “A good photograph to me is one that you can’t stop looking at – either the people, or the scene, or the memory it evokes.”
The Subtle Power of Photographs: A Private Collection is curated by the Eleanor D. Wilson Museum at Hollins University.