The historical and personal moments depicted in an exhibit of Pulitzer Prize photographs at the Yellowstone Art Museum left some viewers speechless Thursday.
Babe Ruth’s back showing his famous number 3, a lifeless child in the arms of a fireman as tries to breathe life into her, a returning prisoner of war limping toward his teenage daughter’s outstretched arms. Each of the 149 photographs in the “Capture the Moment: The Pulitzer Prize Photographs” tells a powerful story.
“It’s sobering stuff,’’ YAM executive director Robyn Peterson said. “It’s a reminder of real life.”
About 40 sponsors and members of the media got an early peek Thursday evening at the exhibit, which opens to the public Friday. For YAM members, the exhibit opening reception is Aug. 11.
Exhibit curator Cyma Rubin, of New York, praised the YAM galleries where the exhibit was hung this week.
“When I find myself in a museum of this stature, where this exhibit is exquisitely displayed, it makes me very happy and very proud,” Rubin said. “This is an amazing amount of space. Most museums don’t have this much space.”
The exhibit is so large, it takes up galleries on the first and second floors of the YAM, where it will be on display through Dec. 31.
Linda Ewert, education director at the YAM, said staff members who put up the exhibit were in tears before they finished hanging the photographs. Looking into the faces of war, suffering and occasionally joy elicits a strong response, she said.
School groups are regular visitors at the museum, and Ewert expects to see many students viewing the exhibit this fall. She and docents are already discussing how to present the exhibit to students without overwhelming them.
“It’s going to be big with junior high and high school-age students,” Ewert said. “It’s a great way to talk about these types of events. For the younger kids, it may be overwhelming because these photographs are very stark, and looking at the reality of life will be very powerful for them.”
Barbara Koostra, director of the Montana Museum of Art and Culture in Missoula, said more than 10,000 people viewed the Pulitzer show two years ago in Missoula, making it the most successful in that museum’s history.
“I’m sure Billings will have the same enthusiasm for this exhibit,” Koostra said. “It is just filled with moments to be thoughtful and sad and elated.”
David Morgenroth, of Missoula, said the exhibit drew so many people in because it makes history personal.
“It’s the power of history made accessible through photographs,” Morgenroth said.
Carol and John Green, who were among those who sponsored the exhibit, viewed it for the first time Thursday.
“The community loves photography,” Carol said. “The Ansel Adams show here was very popular, one of the most popular shows at the museum. The other aspect to this show is the history. This is a way to teach history, which isn’t emphasized enough.”