Whitehot Magazine

Cultural Rebels: Celebrating photographer Ellen Graham’s illustrious career at the Norton Museum of Art

The Duchess of Seville photographed in Paris by Ellen Graham, 1990.

By COCO DOLLE March 10, 2024

Unscripted on view until June 16, 2024 at Norton Museum of Art, West Palm Beach, FL 33401.

Honoring great women artists throughout history has been an established mission of the Norton Museum of Art since the inception of its Women’s Walk, a permanent installation along the museum since 2019. Taken from Hollywood’s Walk of Fame, the Norton’s walk features the names of fifty women artists, and has the capacity of accommodating two hundred.

In the light of the museum’s ambitious women-focused programming, the current exhibition Unscripted provides a captivating journey through the illustrious career of renowned artist Ellen Graham, spanning six decades and offering a profound exploration of her distinctive approach to portraiture. The showcase delves into Graham's triumphs and tribulations, shedding light on the intimate essence of her work.

Lauren Richman, Ph.DNorton's William and Sarah Ross Soter Curator of Photography, emphasizes the contemporary interpretation of Graham’s photographs within the framework of ‘the unscripted’.  This concept encapsulates both Graham's unique photographic style and process, as well as the external influences that have shaped her remarkable career. Richman notes, "Within the broader genre of portraiture, Graham’s photographs feature qualities that stretch beyond many of her contemporaries: a sense of immediacy, moments of intimacy and humor, and the remarkable ability to disarm her subjects." 

Exhibition installation view of "Unscripted" at the Norton Museum of Art, Image Diana Zapata/BFA.com, 2024

Graham's intimate depictions of notable individuals across various stages of their lives provide a distinctive perspective on portrait photography. The exhibition showcases a collection of Graham's 2021 gifted images to the Norton Museum, complemented by a selection on loan from the Ellen Graham Archive, comprising both photographs and photographic ephemera.

Ghislain d’Humières, Kenneth C. Griffin Director and CEO of the Norton, expresses enthusiasm about the enduring impact of Graham's collection, stating, "The collection of photographs from Ellen Graham will engage and delight Museum visitors for years to come." He also acknowledges the transformative gift from The Ellen and Ian Graham Foundation, which has played a pivotal role in establishing a named endowment and naming the Museum's third floor.

Drawing from Graham's extensive portfolio of portrait and street photography, the exhibition presents over 400 subjects, capturing some of the most iconic public figures of the 20th century. Graham's lens unravels an authenticity rarely seen in the public eye, emphasizing moments of immediacy, intimacy, and humor.

Exhibition installation view of "Unscripted" at the Norton Museum of Art, Image Diana Zapata/BFA.com, 2024

In addition to her collaborations with major U.S. magazines like Harper’s Bazaar, People, W Magazine, Time, and Newsweek, Graham's street scenes from global cities offer a glimpse into unseen moments of life. The exhibition is a reflection of Graham's diverse experiences and encounters in both private and public spaces.

Graham's career, marked by her impactful contributions to major publications, has not only shaped her life but has also aligned with the Norton Museum of Art's mission to provide transformative cultural experiences through diverse collections and engaging exhibitions. Reflecting on her craft, Graham attests, "Photography changed my life. My love of photography inspired me to help the Norton with its mission to promote photography to others."

Exhibition installation view of "Unscripted" at the Norton Museum of Art, Image Diana Zapata/BFA.com, 2024

The exhibition pays homage to Graham's legacy, spanning the 1960s to the 1990s, when her talent was sought after by magazines to capture intimate moments of notable personalities. From Sharon Tate and David Bowie to Julie Andrews and Burt Reynolds, Graham's portraits offer a deeply personal connection that transcends the glamour of celebrity, making her work truly timeless. WM

Coco Dolle

Coco Dolle is a French-American artist, writer, and independent curator based in New York since the late 90s. Former dancer and fashion muse for acclaimed artists including Alex Katz, her performances appeared in Vogue and The NY Times. Over the past decade, she has organized numerous exhibitions acclaimed in high-end publications including Forbes, ArtNet, VICE, and W Magazine. She is a contributing writer for L’Officiel Art and Whitehot Magazine. As an artist, her work focuses on body politics and feminist issues as seen at the Oregon Contemporary (OR) and Mary Ryan Gallery (NYC).


Follow her on instagram.

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