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A smile, a scream or a frown. When looking at an image, the first thing we notice is the expression of the model. It allows us to connote, for our minds to construct a story out of this still image. Between May 22 and October 7, the Getty Museum in Los Angeles has decided to further explore facial expressions in photography by featuring forty-five works from its permanent collection in the exhibition In Focus: Expressions.

The images range from portraits to physiognomic studies, and from anonymous snapshots to journalistic photographs. Altogether they will allow the visitor to explore photography’s fascination with the human face, which has been present since the early days of photography and is still relevant today. The exhibition begins by exploring the smile. As the most common expression in photography, it has so many stories to tell: from the smiling models aimed at selling you products to smiling for a selfie meant for Instagram.

However, unlike the posed advertising photographs, sometimes emotions can be harder to read. A smile can easily be interpreted as a smirk or a scream. When going further into the exhibition, visitors will get a glimpse of spontaneous photographs. They will pose the notion that from one facial expression someone can denote a variation of inner emotions that transcend the capacity of any amount of words. After seeing it, you’ll think it twice before saying cheese.
In Focus: Expressions will inaugurate on May 22 and will be on view until October 7 at the Getty Museum, 1200 Getty Center Dr, Los Angeles.

Marjolijn Oostermeijer

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