In the digital era our lives are awash in pictures: still and moving, personal and public, realistic and fantastic. Images, and the means by which we share them, have proliferated. They hang on our walls and refrigerators; glow on our flat-screen televisions, tablet computers, and smart-phones; confront us on buses and billboards as we travel to work or play. We live in what may be the most image-saturated culture ever, but the collections of the Beinecke Library remind us that our contemporary experience has deep historical roots.
Since the time of cave paintings, if not before, humans have created pictures to record their experiences, depict their emotions, and express their ideas. Pictures have been a basis for defining communities – positively and negatively, autonomously and by imposition. They have inspired passions and provoked contemplation. They represent the world as encountered and as imagined. Learning to write did not diminish our fascination with visual images. For millennia, artists and writers have collaborated to develop an astonishing variety of techniques which place images and words in play with each other. Together, they achieve more than either medium can by itself and sustain a never-ending process of reimagining our world and ourselves.
The Power of Pictures seeks to expose the Beinecke Library’s abundant visual resources and to encourage faculty, students, and visitors to explore the collections more fully than this brief exhibition can. Indeed, the preliminary lists of material the curators proposed be included in the show would have required three times the Library’s exhibit space. The creative talents of the Library’s conservators have allowed us to share far more material than usual, but it is a reflection of the extraordinary depth and range of the Library’s collections that one could imagine an equally representative, intriguing, and vibrant exhibition from the material left in the stacks. We hope our selections will stir your imagination and excite your curiosity.