The Amon Carter Museum of American Art (the Carter) in Fort Worth has announced the retirement of longtime photography curator John Rohrbach.
Mr. Rohrbach joined the Carter in August 1992 as Assistant Curator of Photographs, a temporary position which was funded by the Mellon Foundation. In this role, he was tasked with organizing and rehousing the museum’s Eliot Porter Collection, a bequest that included more than 8,000 prints, 100,000 transparencies, and other ephemera. During his time at the museum, Mr. Rohrbach was promoted to the positions of Associate Curator of Photographs (1995), Curator of Photographs (1999), and ultimately Senior Curator of Photographs (2003).
Prior to his work at the Carter, Mr. Rohrback served as the Director of the Paul Strand Archive at Aperture Foundation in New York, NY, after having previously held positions at the George Eastman House in Rochester, NY, and the Photographic Archive and Exhibitions Program at Apeiron Workshops, Inc., in Millerton, NY. He holds a BA in Government from Wesleyan University (1979) and a PhD in American Civilization from the University of Delaware (1993).
During his 31-year career at the Carter, Mr. Rohrbach spearheaded significant acquisitions that built on the museum’s strong 19th century holdings and photographer archives. Some key pieces include rare full-plate daguerreotypes by Albert Sands Southworth & Josiah Hawes; complete sets of Alfred Stieglitz’s art publications Camera Notes, Camera Work, and 291; and a complete set of Edward S. Curtis’ 20-volume work The North American Indian, which aimed to document traditional Native American cultures.
Because the documentation done by early American photographers like Mr. Curtis’ has been revealed to be romanticized and often inaccurate portrayal of Indigenous peoples, Mr. Rohrbach has also worked to diversity the Carter’s collection and expand on the idea of what an “American” art museum’s holdings should encompass. Specifically, he spent a significant amount of time acquiring works by contemporary Indigenous photographers. These efforts culminated in the 2022 co-curated exhibition and publication Speaking with Light: Contemporary Indigenous Photography. This was just one of his more than 80 exhibitions for the Carter, which also included the first critical studies of the careers of Frank Gohlke, Robert Glenn Ketchum, and Eliot Porter; a commission of photographer Terry Evans to photograph Fort Worth’s Trinity River; and groundbreaking studies of cabinet cards and American color photography.
As a steward of and advocate for photography, Mr. Rohrbach’s contribution to the museum extended beyond acquisitions and exhibitions. He also led the Carter’s cold storage initiative, which led to the implementation of a state-of-the-art storage facility to better maintain the museum’s photography collection.
Andrew J. Walker, Executive Director of the Carter, told Glasstire, “The Carter will greatly miss John Rohrbach upon his retirement, both as a colleague and as a friend. His impact is felt in the additions to the collection under his tutelage and the numerous exhibitions he curated including popular shows such as the 2003 Eliot Porter: The Color of Wildness to last year’s Speaking with Light: Contemporary Indigenous Photography. John has introduced generations of visitors to the importance and magic of photography.”
Mr. Rohrbach’s last day at the Carter will be Friday, September 1, 2023. Following his retirement, he plans to serve as a guest curator in a forthcoming exhibition at the museum that has not yet been announced. In the meantime, he plans to focus on repairing his yard after a long, hot, dry Texas summer; completing home repairs; organizing, digitizing, and sharing with his family his parents’ thousands of family photographs; returning to making art; and traveling.