More Than A Picture

Selections from the Museum's Photography Collection

More Than A Picture celebrates the scope and diversity of NMAAHC’s photography collection.

As an accompaniment to the Museum’s popular series of photography books, Double Exposure, this exhibition encouraged visitors to explore the ways photographs reflect important moments in history, memory, and time. From the slavery era to Black Lives Matter, More Than A Picture presented a range of American experiences to look beyond an image’s surface to see its significance to history and cultural meaning. This exhibition was shaped by portraits of individuals who empower themselves to redefine history, groups that share bonds that define their sense of community, and examples of personal expressions that reflect culture and identity.

Michael Jordon, 1988

Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, © Walter Iooss Jr., Gift of Walter Iooss

Main Message

Photographs are more than just pictures. They record memories from our past and document important moments in which we experience pride, joy, and celebration, and sometimes conflict and confrontation. We create and collect images to preserve our memories, so every photograph has a deeper story that has shaped the histories of individuals, cultures, and communities.

Photograph is a close up portrait of an African american girl standing in a crowd. She is wearing a dress with a dark button down sweater.

Miss America - Patriotic Gathering, Ocean Hill, Brooklyn, New York, 1940's. Joe Schwartz, Folk Photography: Poems I've Never Written (2000), 16. See more

Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, Gift of Joe Schwartz and Family

Exhibition Experience


The photographs presented here capture experiences from our nation’s past. Not unlike historical records, these photographs offer a perspective on history that offers evidence of the contributions, achievements, and moments of struggle, in which people seized power to control their fate and destiny.


Photographs shown in this section reflect the ways in which individuals see themselves as part of a community. From the social ties created by friends and families, to the connections that people make to neighborhoods, institutions, and associations, communities unify people around networks of relationships and a sense of belonging.


The photographs in this section highlight the diversity of American cultural values, from a range of traditions and beliefs. They capture expressions of taste and beauty that reflect diverse identities and perspectives on the world. From dance and music to expressions of fashion and style, these images celebrate America’s diversity.


The exhibition includes an interactive area using graphics of photographs in the exhibition and prompts visitors to consider various questions when “reading” a photograph.