DAI exhibit explores the concept of family

“In our contemporary world, no one can think or work with a single picture of what a family is.” – Margaret Meade, Family (1965)

The concept of family is explored through the photographer’s lens in the current exhibit at the Dayton Art Institute titled “Looking at Family.”

Father’s Day seems a perfect time to take a closer look.

The group of photos being shown together in the DAI’s James M. Cox Gallery is one of the smaller Focus exhibitions designed to highlight a specific theme or subject. This show, on display through July 11, celebrates the variety of ways we define and expand our families.

The inspiration for the show came from two photographs taken by artists who have ties to the Miami Valley.

Meet Amy Powell

One of those photos is entitled “There Is No Danger Here.” It has been recently acquired by the museum and is being used to publicize the exhibit. “In 2019 we acquired a work by Kettering photographer Amy Powell that’s a picture of her younger sibling,” explains DAI’s Curator of Photography Katherine Ryckman Siegwarth. “It’s part of a series that investigates childhood and the relationship to her family.”

The photo shows a little girl with her mouth around a butter knife that’s sitting on a window sill. ”It’s precarious and looks at the balance between play and danger, a trademark of childhood,” says Siegwarth.

Powell’s photo is paired with a picture by Emmet Gowin, a renowned photographer who once taught at the School of the Dayton Art Institute and was given his first solo exhibit at the DAI in 1968.

Powell had no idea Gowin had a Dayton connection when she first encountered his work as a student at the Columbus School of Art & Design. She connected with it on the spot. “Immediately I felt this was what I wanted to do,” she remembers. “You could really see the photographer’s gaze even though he wasn’t in the photo; you could feel the love he had for his wife and his family. It was an emotional thing within his pictures, an intimacy I hadn’t seen before photography.”

Powell regularly headed to the Columbus library to study one of Gowin’s books — until it suddenly disappeared from the shelves. She only recently found and purchased a used copy of the book, published in 1976.

When she learned Gowin was teaching at Princeton, she dreamed of studying with him, but felt an Ivy League college wasn’t in the cards.

“Many of the people in these pictures are my family or their friends and I make many pictures of my wife,” Gowin once wrote. “But I always want to make a picture that is more than a family record. I feel that my clearest pictures were at first strange to me [….]”

The Gowin photo in the current DAI exhibit is of his niece, Nancy.

Powell says one of her own photographs emulates Emmet Gowin. “The wonderful thing about art-making is that even if you’re inspired by a real artist, you can’t help but do it in your own way,” she says.

Powell, who has been teaching photography for the past 15 years, currently teaches at Kettering Fairmont High School. In 2018, she presented her work in an Artist Talk at the DAI in connection with the Mickalene Thomas photo exhibit.

Other photos

Other well-known photographers in the show include Harry Callahan, Sally Mann, Jane Reece and Edward Weston.

The most iconic family photo in the exhibit is “The Walk to Paradise Garden” by W. Eugene Smith. You’ve probably seen it over the years; it was featured in Edward Steichen’s popular book and exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art.

After the year we’ve just been through, that charming photo is especially inspiring. It pictures his toddlers, hand-in-hand, walking in their garden.

Smith, a photojournalist, had been seriously injured while covering the fighting in the Pacific during World War II and wasn’t certain he’d ever be able to work again. This photo was one of the first he took after the injury.

He later wrote this: “While I followed my children into the undergrowth and the group of taller trees — how they were delighted at every little discovery! — and observed them, I suddenly realized that at this moment, in spite of everything, in spite of all the wars and all I had gone through that day, I wanted to sing a sonnet to life and to the courage to go on living it.”

The images in the DAI exhibit range from pictures of actual families to those that encompass broader notions of family including special friends and communities.

Worth discussing

Siegwarth has come up with a series of excellent questions that encourage visitors to explore the subject of family as you stroll through the gallery. Kids will like answering these questions, too.

Take time to check out the variety of photos taken by local folks that are on display in the entrance to the exhibit.

Powell, who will be taking a sabbatical year to work on a book of her “Erica” pictures that focus on her younger sister, is also preparing for a 2022 FotoFocus exhibit at The Contemporary.

“I don’t know why I love taking photos of my family,” she says. " Partly, it gives me something to do when I’m with my family. These are the people I love, these are the pictures of people I want to have. I’m not so interested in holding onto strangers or people I don’t know.”

If you’d like to connect with photographer Amy Powell, you can find her on Instagram: amy.lynn.powell.


What: “Looking at Family: Photos from the Collection”

Where: Dayton Art Institute, 456 Belmonte Park North

When: Through July 11. Current museum hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday and Saturday; noon to 5 p.m. Sunday. The museum will be closed on the Fourth of July. Hours are subject to change, call 937-223-4ART (4278) to confirm.

Admission: $15 for adults, $10 for seniors, active military and groups of 10 or more; $5 for college students and youth ages 7-17. Admission is free for museum members. Free three-week family memberships can be checked out at all branches of the Dayton Metro Library.

More info: www.daytonartinstitute.org

Looking for more family activities at the Dayton Art Institute?

Casey Goldman, lead museum educator, has these suggestions for both on-site and remote connections:

At the museum

  • Family guides: Ask the front desk for an interactive booklet to explore the collection. Search for art treasures from around the world with a treasure hunt map. Look for more guides to release in July about music, landscape, and science.
  • iPad stations: Located throughout the galleries, these are always open to What is a Masterpiece. Most artworks on that app have a “kids content” section.
  • Bring your own device: Use a smartphone and connect to free WiFi. Try What is a Masterpiece (can be found on the DAI website) or watch an Art Vids for Kids video (found on the website, YouTube, any of the DAI’s social media channels) with headphones.


Visit www.daytonartinstitute.org and click on the Learn tab to find the activities below.

  • Check out “Art Vids for Kids” at home, then visit to find the same artwork in the galleries.
  • Make an artwork with the whole family by following along with ARTventures project guides.
  • Tiny Thursdays at Home includes an online story, DAI artwork-looking, and project.
  • Check out the Online Learning Library with more than 100 art projects, videos, and creative content.

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