Transforming a show comprised of 80 black-and-white archival photographs into a colorful, free-standing exhibition complete with objects, audio, and video is no easy task. But SITES' Museum on Main Street (MoMS) team has done it again! The Way We Worked began as an exhibition at the National Archives and then traveled with SITES in its original format for four years. Now the MoMS crew, together with the show's original curator and the folks at the Smithsonian Office of Exhibits Central (OEC), has created a spectacular new version of the show that hits the road this fall. The exhibition will travel to 180 communities in 30 states over its six years on the road.
The MoMS version of the show offers a fresh take on the exhibition content and a bold new experience for viewers. MoMS project director Robbie Davis said "moving away from framed photographs hanging on walls gave us a great deal of freedom to present the story in a new way." I recently visited OEC where the MoMS displays are created and assembled, and the photographs do indeed reveal new secrets when blown-up to life size, cropped to highlight small details, and presented as silhouetted forms. In addition, reproducing the photographs digitally allows for creative overlapping of images, juxtapositions, and comparisons with posters, murals, and advertisements. The new version of The Way We Worked has over twice as many photographs as the original--including color images of contemporary jobs--but the dynamic new display keeps the viewer's attention focused and engaged.
Bruce Bustard, the curator from the National Archives, was with me on my visit to OEC. As one
accustomed to working primarily with documents and photographs, he was especially impressed by the clever use of objects, noting that they "add texture to the exhibit while still keeping its original spirit." There are some objects which are familiar to viewers (a Blackberry smartPhone, for example), and others with which many will be unfamiliar. (Two I had never seen before were a secretary's shorthand practice book and computer punch cards.)
A special technology grant from the Smithsonian has allowed the MoMS team to transform the exhibition even more than they originally dreamed possible. Come September, the exhibition will have specially mounted video screens displaying archival video footage and fresh interviews documenting the role of work in Americans' lives. In addition, a cell phone-based audio guide, with information adapted to each state will be available to visitors, who will also be able to use their cell phones to add their own stories to an online oral history archive.
For more information about MoMS, please visit the website.
--Robin Meyer, SITES publications intern