Momentous moments in time

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The homecoming of Americans kept as prisoners of war in Austria. James Dean walking in Times Square. These and other sweeping views of world history are on display at the Portland Museum of Art.

Visitors to the Portland Museum of Art can witness some of the most momentous events of the recent past, courtesy of “In Our Time: The World As Seen By Magnum Photographers,” a powerful and moving photography exhibit.

Famine in India. Genocide in South Africa. Revolution in Iran. The Civil Rights Movement in the United States. These are just a few of the subjects captured by some of the most revered documentary photographers of the 20th century, including Magnum Photos Inc. founders Henri Cartier-Bresson, George Rodger, Robert Capa and David Seymour, as well as noted contemporary photographers Sebastiao Salgado, Mary Ellen Mark and Susan Meiselas.

Many of the photos show poignant views of people under great stress. They are silent reminders of pain and the destruction caused by violence.

All of the photos show an intimate view of the subject matter and bring us closer to world events that touch us all. Looking at the photos in this exhibit reminds us that we are all alike, all over the world, because we share the same feelings of love, grief, anger, and joy.

This exhibition of 100 black-and-white photos has significant impact as a visual record of history, and it brings an intimacy through its images that words cannot convey. The emotional power and majesty of the photos remain in your mind as you leave the exhibit, and offer inspiring insight into our common humanity.

The exhibit, showing through June 4, celebrates more than 50 years of Magnum Photos Inc., one of the world’s most renowned photographic agencies. Magnum was founded in 1947, as a cooperative agency that provides photographers control over how their images are used, by whom and where and when.

Organized by George Eastman House International Museum of Photogrpahy and Film, Rochester, N.Y., the exhibit showcases the work of 50 photographers who covered history-making events of the recent past, as well as the quieter side of human existence with scenes of family life, religious happenings, cityscapes and landscapes around the world. Among the featured photographers are Patrick Zachmann, Cornell Capa, Ian Berry, Leonard Freed, Marc Riboud, Raymond Depardon, Bruce Davidson, Werner Bischef, Elliott Erwitt and Dennis Stock.

One of the most moving photographs in the exhibit is “Torah Study,” taken by Cornell Capa in New York city in 1954. Its powerful view of a Hassidic Jewish man teaching Hebrew to three children captures the seriousness of the activity, its complete dedication, and the enormous patience it takes to teach this ancient and wonderful language.

Another powerful photograph, “James Dean in Times Square,” taken by Stock in New York City in 1955, is a poignant view of the young actor. The photograph captures Dean walking in the rain, with his coat collar up, with a cigarette in his mouth and both hands in his pockets. The image of an isolated man dealing with his loneliness in the center of a metropolis speaks volumes about Dean’s life, as well as the lives of many of us in today’s civilization.

Many photographs in the exhibit could be considered social justice works that record struggles for human dignity and freedom. Examples: Freed’s “Martin Luther King Jr. after Receiving the Nobel Peace Prize, Baltimore 1963,” Ian Berry’s “Archbishop Desmond Tutu, South Africa 1983” and Constantine Manos’ “Aunt at the Funeral of Her Nephew Killed in Vietnam, North Carolina 1966.”

The tragedy of war and loss of lives due to violence is captured over and over again in this powerful exhibit. The camera lens does not dilute the truth in these magnificent photographs.

Other outstanding works to look for include such famous photographs as “Circus Dwarf, Palisades, New Jersey,” by Bruce Davidson; “Che Guevara,” by Rene Burri; and “Arlington Virginia, 1963,” by Elliot Erwitt, a poignant photograph of Jacqueline Kennedy accepting a folded American flag at the grave of her husband, President John F. Kennedy, with her brother-in-law, Robert Kennedy, looking on.

The beauty of photography is that it gives us an intimate view of places words cannot bring us to. It captures the feelings of grief from losing a loved one, the joy in a simple smile, the devastation of war, and the destruction of human dignity in famine. Fine photography is a visual poem of the soul of humanity.

“In Our Time: The World As Seen By Magnum Photographers” brings to Maine a view of the world we have seen only in newspapers and magazines over the years, but never together under one roof – reproduced from original negatives.

This is an exhibit not to be missed.

Museum hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday; 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday. The museum is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday Memorial Day through Columbus Day. Admission: $8 for adults, $6 for seniors and students with ID., $2 for children 6-17; children under 6, admitted free. Admission is free 5 to 9 p.m. Friday.

Pat Davidson Reef has a master’s degree in education and has taught art history at Catherine McAuley High School in Portland. She has written two children’s books, “Dahlov Ipcar, Artist,” and “Bernard Langlais, Sculptor.” She teaches children’s literature for teacher recertification for the American Institute for Creative Education.

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