When I first saw Myth, Manners and Memory my head was filled with questions about how and why the pictures were made and how they fitted together to make this exhibition. So I asked visitors of all ages to write down questions that came into their heads whilst looking at the exhibition in order to compare my own reactions to theirs.
Here are transcriptions of many of the questions written on the clipboards that I placed around the gallery:
What is the significance of the tricycle? Is its scale and condition a factor or is this just a moment in time?
Why questions not comments? Is there a great deal of meaning I'm not seeing because I'm not American? e.g would the design style of the 'Gulf' sign make me feel nostalgic if it were part of my cultural lexicon?
Red ceiling 1969-71: Is this the ceiling of a brothel? Does the colour red have a hidden meaning or symbolism?
William Eggleston portraits
Has it been photoshopped (the blue sky is so intense)?
Is that a scar on his face? (girl aged 8)
Who are these people?
Is his name Bubba?
Overheard from 10? year old boy: What's so amazing about photographs? No-one answered him – a missed opportunity?
Is Alec Soth looking for idiosyncracy (or does it just find him)?
Why are there posters on the building? (girl aged 8)
Why were the blacks treated so badly?
What are those boys holding?
Who were the FSA? What was their purpose? Why were they documenting the lives of the rural poor?
Federal Writers Project
Where can I find out more about the Federal Writers Project?
Carrie Mae Weems
Why is the lady standing on the railway track?
Why is that house on stilts? (girl aged 8)
“Why were all the coloured people left to live in rack and ruin? (girl aged 12)
Who are these people?
Why are there not very nice subjects?
Why take photos?
To my surprise this exhibition does not seem to lend itself to easily verbalised questions but most definitely does encourage discussion. Over the afternoon I had many excellent conversations with visitors from as far afield as Devon and Sheffield. Many of them were very knowledgeable about photography (some were touring Brighton Photo Biennial and Photo Fringe venues). Many of the people who wanted to talk about the exhibition did not want to write down specific questions.
The answers to many of the questions are of course online, but I do recommend Sean O'Hagan's Q&A with Susan Lipper available at www.guardian .co.uk
All were very appreciative of the exhibition and the building that contains it. Above all, it was clear how much people (whether informed about the medium or not) love to look at photographs.