Intimate Strangers Opens At The Barton Art Galleries

The Barton Art Galleries are proud to present Intimate Strangers, an exhibition of photographs from the collection of Allen G. Thomas, Jr., an art collector and native of Wilson. Intimate Strangers will open on Friday, Nov. 9, with a reception from 5:30 p.m. – 8:30 p.m. The exhibition will run until Friday, Dec. 7.

When Thomas was first approached by the Barton Art Galleries to exhibit works from his collection, he proposed the idea of an exhibition of portrait photographs. “The title comes from the fact that I’m living with, in some cases, life size strangers all over my walls,” says Thomas. Each image in the exhibition offers and intimate look at a real person wearing their life’s history on their face. “When you live with portraits of people you don’t know you become very familiar with them,” continues Thomas. “I don’t sit around making up life stories, but the photographs speak to where these people have been.”

The selection of photographs in the exhibition was curated by Gérard Lange, director of exhibitions and assistant professor at Barton College, along with the help of Thomas. Nearly a year passed since the initial discussion of works to be included in the exhibition, but the final selection process came down to Lange, Thomas, and a handful of students from Barton College literally taking the photographs off of Thomas’ walls.

Barton College promotes learning through involvement in activities outside the traditional classroom. “I wanted students to step inside the world of an art connoisseur,” said Lange. “They need to understand all aspects related to the business side of art. By taking the students to Mr. Thomas’ home to select the work, they were able to become part of the process of arranging an exhibition as well as experience Mr. Thomas’ passion for photography firsthand.”

Ben Yansom, a sophomore art major at Barton, was impressed with Thomas’ knowledge of photography. When the group began to consider a particular work, Thomas would share background information about the artist’s career. He also talked about the importance of the particular work in contemporary photography. “He had a personal connection to every photograph there,” said Yansom. “It seemed like they somehow related back to his life a bit.”

While selecting the photographs, the group would pause frequently and discuss the images. “I’m glad I got a chance to voice my opinion on the work,” said Kelli Moss, another Barton sophomore. “I felt really involved and that what I thought mattered.”

Images in the exhibition range from what might be considered more traditional portraits to figure studies and conceptual pieces. Two photographs by George Duncan are formal portraits depicting the head and shoulders of young men appearing to be in their early twenties. Each is dressed in a dark t-shirt and positioned in front of a green background, lit from one side only. Their expressions remain blank and emotionless. The prints are slightly larger than life size, which creates an ominous feeling. “Derek (face),” 2003, depicts a young man who is now deceased. This knowledge, combined with the apparent absence of emotion in the image, makes the photograph resemble a death mask, capturing his feature only and not portraying attributes of his personality.

Carrie Levy’s untitled portrait of a chemotherapy patient is a particular gem. The woman in the photograph stands in front of a blank white wall, where only a partial glimpse of an electrical socket and a sign give any sense of space. The woman is facing away from the camera, to the right, staring off into the white void. She stands naked in the center of the composition, and her head is shaven with a dark stubble remaining. In her clutched hands, she holds two dark-colored braids of hair, presumably removed recently from her head. The slightly downward angle of her chin reveals a pensive attitude, and her drooping shoulders depict a sadness regarding her condition. One must note though that her hands are clutched, which leads the viewer to believe that the woman has inner strength and fortitude to battle her cancer.

Many photographs in the exhibition were selected as pairs or groups. The thought behind this decision was to give a peek into the artist’s thought processes. “Photographs in a series can support one another, reinforcing one’s understanding of the individuals depicted,” shared Lange. In contrast to the sets of images, a few larger photographs were selected for their individual uniqueness and scale. These photographs are hard to miss in the exhibition because they are greater then four feet tall. “Large scale photography is one of the biggest trends in modern photography,” Lange continued. Earlier this year, Thomas loaned many works from his private collection to the North Carolina Museum of Art for an exhibition titled “The Big Picture.”

“Intimate Strangers” offers a splendid look into contemporary photography. The depth and breath of the selected works provides a viewing experience unlike anything Wilson has seen.

The Barton Art Galleries, including the Virginia Thompson Graves Gallery and the Lula E. Rackley Gallery, are located in the Case Art Building, at the corner of Gold Street and Whitehead Avenue on the campus of Barton College. The Barton Art Galleries are open Monday through Friday from 10:00 a.m. until 3:00 p.m.

For additional information about this exhibition or other events at the Barton Art Galleries, please contact Gérard Lange at 252-399-6475 or email:

Questions? Please contact Kathy Daughety, director of public relations, at 252-399-6529 or email: