Order of Imagination: The Photographs of Olivia Parker at Peabody Essex Museum (PEM), July 13 – November 11, 2019

“For more than 40 years, Olivia Parker (b. 1941) has used photography to explore the relationships between vision, knowledge, and the natural world. From deceptively simple still lifes that transform the commonplace to her most recent work exploring memory loss, Order of Imagination: The Photographs of Olivia Parker features more than 100 intricately composed photographs that reflect the artist’s wide creative range and unflagging curiosity. This is the first exhibition to present a comprehensive retrospective of Parker’s extensive career.

A highly-celebrated and acclaimed photographer, Olivia Parker’s work is represented in major collections, including the Art Institute of Chicago, the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, the George Eastman Museum, and PEM. Originally trained as a painter, the Massachusetts-based artist notes that she is drawn to photography for its ability to create a controlled dialogue between nature and abstraction, permanence and ephemerality, and for its ability to use light to sculpt form and define space.” — Peabody Essex Museum


Olivia Parker, Cinquefoil, 1975, printed 1977. Gelatin silver print. © Olivia Parker


Olivia Parker, Pheasant, 1976. Gelatin silver print. © Olivia Parker


Olivia Parker, Evidence, 1977. Gelatin silver print. © Olivia Parker

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Olivia Parker, Orchids from the Ephemera Portfolio, 1977. Gelatin silver print. © Olivia Parker


Olivia Parker, Interior with Pears, 1979. Gelatin silver print. © Olivia Parker


Olivia Parker, Child, 1980. Dye diffusion print. © Olivia Parker


Olivia Parker, Eggs, 2005. Inkjet print. © Olivia ParkerOlivia

Wing 1

Olivia Parker, Wing 1, 2008. Inkjet print. © Olivia Parker

A Book of Curses

Olivia Parker, A Book of Curses, 2008. Inkjet print. © Olivia Parker

Shell in a Landscape

Olivia Parker, Shell in a Landscape, 2011. Inkjet print. © Olivia Parker


Olivia Parker, Honeymoon, 2016. Inkjet print. © Olivia Parker

Nattering Things

Olivia Parker, Nattering Things, 2016. Inkjet print. © Olivia Parker

Franz Franken II, Oil on Copper; 1625

Olivia Parker, Frans Francken II, Oil on Copper; 1625, 2017. Inkjet print. © Olivia Parker

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Portrait of Olivia Parker. © Peabody Essex Museum. Photography by Bob Packert.

“It is always a gratifying and wonderful journey to be able to look at an artist’s whole career,” says Sarah Kennel, PEM’s Byrne Family Curator of Photography. “In the case of Parker’s work, it’s been a great privilege to understand the way she lives and how impacted she is by her environment–the items that she collects, how light and shadow play in her studio, how her wit and understated humor infuse her work. When you begin to unlock these pictures, you discover all of these ways in which she is making little visual jokes and word plays to further enliven the work and reward close reading.”

Images courtesy Peabody Essex Museum.