Act of Sight: The Tsiaras Family Photography Collection

February 10–August 14, 2022

Upper and Lower Jetté Galleries, Annex

Over the last thirty years, Dr. William ’68 and Nancy Meyer Tsiaras ’68 have amassed one of the foremost collections of American photography in private hands. Given to the Colby Museum in 2020, the collection includes more than 500 photographs spanning from the 1880s to the present.

As ophthalmologist to influential photographers and educators Harry Callahan and Aaron Siskind, Dr. Tsiaras became acquainted with many faculty and students in the photography department at the Rhode Island School of Design in the late 1970s and early 1980s. He began acquiring photographs to support his friends. His passion for images—and his eye for exceptional talent—led him deeper into the history of the medium, and his collection grew in turn.    

Today, the Tsiaras Family Photography Collection includes 100 artists who collectively represent some of the most significant movements in the medium over the last century. Modernist masterpieces by Ansel Adams, Clarence White, Edward Steichen, Berenice Abbott, and Edward Weston complement powerful documentary images from nearly every photographer of the Depression-era Farm Security Administration, including Dorothea Lange, Margaret Bourke-White, and Arthur Rothstein. Works by Roy DeCarava, Helen Levitt, Arthur Leipzig, and Garry Winogrand capture the characters and moods of American city streets, while important images by Emmet Gowin, Joe Deal, and William Christenberry contemplate changing rural and agricultural landscapes. Moving images by Gordon Parks, Imogen Cunningham, Lauren Greenfield, Arien Chang, Annie Leibovitz, and Lucas Samaras attest to the wide-ranging experiments of photographic portraiture. The roster of artists also includes many members of the Photo League and Magnum, important photographic cooperatives. Extensive holdings in works by Aaron Siskind and Harry Callahan are a testament to the collection’s origins. 

Presenting approximately 150 highlights from the Tsiaras Collection, the exhibition will reveal the breadth and depth of this remarkable gift, which includes many rare and unpublished images by well-known photographers. The installation will emphasize the connections between images, examining formal, conceptual, and thematic relationships across photography’s many histories.

Banner image: Barbara Norfleet (American, b. 1926), Placing target inside NOVA, world’s most powerful laser. Lawrence Livermore Lab, Livermore, California, 1990, from the portfolio The Landscape of the Cold War (2005), detail. Gelatin silver print, 14 3/8 x 21 3/8 in. The Tsiaras Family Photography Collection