Making a Life in Photography: Rollie McKenna

February 17–June 2, 2024

A person with unruly white hair stands in an extremely cluttered room with large windows, smoking a cigarette while working with some parts and pieces on a table completely filled with various objects.
Rosalie Thorne McKenna (American, 1918–2003), Alexander Calder in His Studio, Roxbury, Connecticut, 1958, Gelatin silver print, Gift of the artist, 1987.53.65. © The Rosalie Thorne McKenna Foundation, Courtesy Center for Creative Photography, The University of Arizona Foundation

This exhibition is the first survey of the prolific career of American photographer Rosalie (Rollie) Thorne McKenna (1918–2003). After graduating from Vassar College in 1940, McKenna worked independently as a sought-after architectural and portrait photographer, making unique yet underrecognized contributions to American modernism and documentary photography. During her lifetime, McKenna’s work was published in numerous books and magazines including Fortune, Harper’s, Vanity Fair, and Vogue. The Museum of Modern Art’s 1955 landmark exhibition Latin American Architecture Since 1945 featured her architectural photographs. She made iconic portraits of many artists and writers, including W. H. Auden, Elizabeth Bishop, Alexander Calder, Truman Capote, T. S. Eliot, Laura Gilpin, Henry Moore, Sylvia Plath, Ezra Pound, Anne Sexton, Dylan Thomas, and Eudora Welty. McKenna used her camera to forge an unusual path for a woman in mid-twentieth-century America toward both personal and creative freedom. Hers is one of many queer stories that would be lost were it not for her dedication to preserving her own legacy. She embraced photography as a way to explore the true complexity of human experience—including her own.

This exhibition is accompanied by a fully-illustrated catalog, co-published by Vassar College and Scala Arts Publishers, including contributions by Jessica D. Brier, Mary-Kay Lombino, Rebecca Senf, T. Barton Thurber, and Luísa Valle.

Making a Life in Photography: Rollie McKenna is generously supported by The Rosalie Thorne McKenna Foundation and the Hoene Hoy Photography Fund.

Read the Exhibition Press Release.

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