Humans are drawn to faces, and that gives portraits a special power. Portraits have the ability to collapse geographic and historical distances, bringing us into a more intimate dialogue with the past. While Houghton’s collections derive from years of Harvard libraries amassing works primarily produced in Europe and European colonies, they nevertheless contain materials—such as portraits—that can tell far broader, deeper stories. Face to Face: Portraits of People of Color Before Photography showcases portraits of specifically identifiable individuals, what is known of their lives, and the context in which their portraits were made.

This exhibition was curated by John Overholt, Curator of the Donald and Mary Hyde Collection of Dr. Samuel Johnson and of Early Books and Manuscripts.

Planning to visit?

Face to Face is on view May 9 – August 5, 2022. The exhibition is open to all visitors; face coverings are recommended. Please see Harvard Library's Visitor Access Page for the most up-to-date information about visiting the library.

Join us for a tour!

Join exhibition curator John Overholt for a special guided tour of Face to Face. This 45-minute tour will include discussion of the themes of the exhibition, highlights from the portraits on display, and ample time for participant questions. Registration is required:

Please consult the Harvard Library Visitor Access page for the most up-to-date information on library hours and in-person library use guidelines.

Persons with disabilities who would like to request accommodations or have questions about physical access may contact Houghton Library's Administrative Coordinator Le Huong Huynh at or at 617-495-2443 at least 48 hours in advance of the tour.