The Providence Album, Vol 1 explores the life, look and history of Providence in the 1960s through the photography of Carmel Vitullo and Harry Callahan.
Providence in the 1960s appeared to be a city in decline. Many residents were starting to move out of the city and into the surrounding suburbs at a rate faster than any other American city except for Detroit. Downtown hotels, offices and department stores would close in the 60s and 70s, relocating to the suburbs to chase these residents. As the downtown core emptied out, planners became fixated on providing amenities to attract suburban drivers: wider roads, a more efficient way into and out of the city via I-95 (built 1957-65), and many, many parking lots. It was a tremendous amount of change – even trauma – in such a short period of time, and its impacts fell especially acutely on neighborhoods and residents of color.
The Providence Album, Vol 1 revisits Providence in the 1960s through the photographs of Carmel Vitullo and Harry Callahan, whose powerful images capture the city during this time of tremendous change.
Vitullo, who is now 94 and still lives in Providence, documented Federal Hill during this period; her photographs are a love letter to the neighborhood in which she grew up, revealing its vibrant street life and inimitable characters. Callahan moved from Chicago to Providence in 1961 to found RISD’s photography department. Already a well-known experimental photographer then, Callahan would go on to become one of the most significant photographers of the 20th century. While he lived in Providence, he photographed what was close by; his images of downtown are like the stills of a film noir movie, showing dark and deserted streets, surreal window displays, and well-dressed white women in heels who recall the heroines of Alfred Hitchcock movies.
If photographs are a way of telling stories, the stories that Vitullo and Callahan were telling about Providence were very different, with contrasting narratives about modern urban life, the role of advertising in the public space of the street, and postwar female identity.
Marisa Angell Brown, Assistant Director of Programs at the John Nicholas Brown Center for Public Humanities and Cultural Heritage, curated the exhibition with Yilin (Elaine) Huang MA ‘20, Yao-Hsuan (Sharon) Lin MA ‘20, Dashiell Wasserman PhD '20 and Ariana Wescott MA ’20, all graduate students at the Public Humanities Center. The exhibition includes audio recordings of interviews the Lin conducted with Vitullo, Stephan Brigidi (one of Callahan’s early students), and long-time Providence residents who reminisce about the spaces in these photographs and the city in the 1960s. The photographs have been loaned by the Bell Gallery at Brown and the Bert Gallery in Providence.
The Providence Album, Vol I: Carmel Vitullo and Harry Callahan (May 4 – July 19)
Carriage House Gallery, John Nicholas Brown Center for Public Humanities and Cultural Heritage, 357 Benefit Street. Gallery Hours M-F 10-4; closed holidays.
Opening reception: Saturday, May 4, 5-7pm.
Gallery talks: Thursday, May 16 at 6pm; Friday, May 24 at 3pm; and Saturday, May 25 at 2pm.
The exhibition and all associated programs are free and open to the public.