HOME as Feeling

Nikolai Smilyk, Once There Lived...

Nikolai Smilyk (active 1973-present)
Once There Lived..., 1980
Gelatin silver print

Gift from the Trustees of the Corcoran Gallery of Art (Gift of the artist)

This photo shows an old couple laying on their bed in the Kharkov Region of Ukraine, an important industrial center. It records a beautiful moment in this couple’s life although it is tempered by its fleeting nature. Both figures are napping in work clothes, suggesting they must return to a factory or labor that would involve getting their hands dirty, in fact the man’s hands still show dirt from his earlier toil. Neither is young, reflecting a necessity to still work despite their age.

Arthur Rothstein, Room Where Migratory Agricultural Workers Sleep, Camden County, New Jersey

Arthur Rothstein (1915-1985)
Room Where Migratory Agricultural Workers Sleep, Camden County, New Jersey, October 1938; printed later
Black and white photograph

Gift from the Trustees of the Corcoran Gallery of Art

Arthur Rothstein was the first photographer hired by the Resettlement Agency, which would later become the Farm Security Administration (FSA), an organization famous for its photographs documenting the aftermath of the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl. From 1935 to 1944, the aim of these government contracted photographers was to document American rural poverty, which had become a national crisis, as a way to propagate the benefit of the relief programs that provided support for small farmers.

While on assignment in Camden, New Jersey, Rothstein captured the modest living quarters of an agricultural worker. Clippings of new and expensive automobiles rise up above an unmade bed in an expression of hope and motivation – symbolic of the dreams of the thousands of migrants traveling, by any means possible – throughout the country in search of work.

This photograph was included in the 1999 Corcoran Gallery exhibition Propaganda & Dreams, which juxtaposed documentary photographs from the U.S. against photographs from the USSR during times of extreme hardship and the struggle for public improvement in both countries.


Diana Walker, Sullivan Shelter, Arlington, Virginia

Diana Walker (b. 1942)
Sullivan Shelter, Arlington, Virginia, 1999 Gelatin silver print

Gift from the Trustees of the Corcoran Gallery of Art (Gift of Diana Walker)

This low-lit black and white photograph of a serene family moment is an illusion. The mother tenderly embracing her child is fleeing domestic violence and is staying at the Sullivan House, a homeless shelter in Arlington, Virginia, while her baby is in poor health. The photograph was taken in 1999 and exhibited in The Way Home: Ending Homelessness in America in 2000 at the Corcoran Gallery, in partnership with the National Alliance to End Homelessness. For the show, photographers contributed works emphasizing the human aspect of homelessness, rather than the cultural or financial one to show that homelessness is neither a permanent nor insoluble social phenomenon, but something that can be overcome.

Diana Walker is an award-winning American photojournalist who has worked for TIME Magazine and this work builds on the history in American documentary photography of recording displacement in times of hardship. Similar in subject to the iconic photograph Migrant Mother by Dorothea Lange, taken during the Great Depression this photograph can be read as an aspiration to a return to a place that is – both physically and emotionally – “home”.

Claudia Smigrod, Bed Sheets

Claudia Smigrod (b. 1949)
Bed Sheets, 1979; printed October 1980
Van Dyke brown print on gold toned wove paper

Gift from the Trustees of the Corcoran Gallery of Art (Museum Purchase with the aid of funds from the National Endowment for the Arts, Washington, D.C., a Federal Agency, and The Polaroid Corporation)

American photographer, Claudia Smigrod explores the sensation of the home in her work. Smigrod was a professor at the Corcoran School of Arts and Design and continues to teach at various institutions. The photograph’s minimalistic depiction of an abstract and deceptively complex environment – the bed – is a repetitive theme throughout Smigrod’s work. The composition of light in this photograph demonstrates light’s primary function to render all things that are visible while also evoking a sensation of buoyancy, weightlessness and grace. Smigrod’s other photographs allude to the personal development and growth of an individual twenty years later in a series called “Neighborhood Watch.”


HOME: Selections from the Corcoran Study Collection

HOME as Place

Washington, DC as HOME