Structures of Identity examines how photographers, across a range of cultures and historical periods, have used portraiture to affirm or challenge social stereotypes constructed around notions of race, gender, class, and nationality. Reflecting on how portrait photography has been deployed, Structures of Identity visualizes the political and cultural factors that shape individual and collective subjectivities, with a particular focus on the relation between self-representation and social identity.

Emphasizing the work of artists—and sitters—who use portraiture to subvert visual expectations, and challenge markers of identification, Structures of Identity questions notions of a stable, authentic self. The exhibition shows how some photographers and their subjects have capitalized on the power of photographic portraiture to explore changing notions of gender and sexuality, race and ethnicity. All of these efforts reflect a precise and widespread practice of using portraiture within a larger classificatory grid that shapes the political meanings of those subjects. These images document the ways that visual forms and archival structures construct social attitudes.

Structures of Identity deploys an approach that highlights the different ways that subjectivity and social identity are shaped and regarded within the history of the photographic medium, and illustrates the constant efforts of The Walther Collection to discuss and consider the history of photography beyond conventional temporal, cultural, and geographic boundaries.