From "Family Tree" (2001) by Zhang Huan – Zhang Huan's performance piece "Family Tree" uses his own body as a site to explore social phenomena. Calligraphers slowly coat his face with phrases, from political slogans of Mao Zedong to observations about Zhang's skull. The sequence tugs at the tension between the self and society, letting viewers ponder at what point one supersedes the other.
From "Criminal Photographs No.19" (1880s-90s) by an unidentified photographer – In the 19th century, French criminologist Alphonse Bertillon created a method of measuring the front and profile headshots of convicts, creating the groundwork for the modern mugshot. Individually, the images tell only surface-level information about the subjects, but as a collection they reveal how photography was used to develop a visual language for criminality.
From "Altlitz der Zeit (Face of Our Time)" (1929) by August Sander – In the 1920s, German photographer August Sander embarked on an ambitious project: to try and catalog the the entirety of German society's social and occupational diversity, in a massive collection portraits. These images, from his volume "Face of Our Time," serve as an important historical touchstone for the genre of serial photography.
From "The Family" (1976) Richard Avedon – Portraitist Richard Avedon's 1976 series "The Family" included 69 photographs of key American political figures -- here, for example, Ralph Nader, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Katherine Graham, Barbara Jordan, George H.W. Bush, and Cesar Chavez -- revealing the dominant power structure of the day.
From "Occupying Wall Street" (2011-12) by Accra Shepp – In "Occupying Wall Street," New York-based photographer Accra Shepp set out to take as many portraits of protesters at Zucotti Park as possible during the final months of 2011. Juxtaposed against "The Family," Shepp's series embodies the political response to the power structure revealed in Avedon's photographs.
From "Untitled Hairstyles" (1970-1979) by J.D. 'Okhai Ojeikere – The great Nigerian photographer J.D. 'Okhai Ojeikere's "Hairstyles" series began as a self-assigned project in 1970, and became one of the most memorable visual records of Nigeria's post-colonial transition. Over four decades he made more than 1,000 images of architecturally styled hair, intimate metaphors for the country's culture and development.
From "Faces and Phases" (2006-14) by Zanele Mulholi – South African photographer Zanele Muholi calls herself an "activist photographer." She photographed black lesbian and trans people as a form of artistic resistance against the systemic physical and sexual violence they face. The serial format drives home the subjects' solidarity in the face of a shared oppression, while demonstrating the diversity of the community.
From "Gravel Plants" (1988-2001) by Bernd Becher and Hilla Becher – In the late 1950s, Bernd and Hilla Becher embarked on a methodical project to catalog industrial architecture throughout Europe and the US, photographing buildings in a deadpan style that revealed familial similarities of buildings, which they called "typologies."