October 20, 2021

Talk Marks 50 Years of Photography In University Art Museum’s Collection

By Anne Levin

When David H. McAlpin donated nearly 500 photographs to Princeton University Art Museum in 1971, and created an endowed professorship in photography at the University a year later, he launched the school on its way to having one of the most important university collections of photography.

McAlpin, a 1920 graduate of the University, donated the personal collection he had amassed with his wife. It included works by his friends Alfred Stieglitz, Georgia O’Keeffe, Ansel Adams, and other landmark photographers.

“Princeton is one of the few university environments where photography is taken seriously as a topic of academic study and historical study,” said Katherine Bussard, the University’s Peter C. Bunnell Curator of Photography. Bussard will lead a virtual discussion about the legacy of McAlpin’s gift and the future of photography at Princeton on Thursday, October 28 at 5:30 p.m.

The talk celebrates the depth and history of the collection, which has grown to over 20,000 photographs by more than 900 artists, forming a comprehensive history of the medium from the 1840s to the present. Part of the popularity of photography, Bussard said, is the fact that it has become such a big part of everyday life.

“Photography is now so ubiquitous. We all carry cameras of some sort, and we are forever snapping pictures in a way that goes far beyond what the Kodak company could have imagined when it debuted the first point-and-shoot,” she said. “I think there is this deep familiarity with photography. It has a relatability that I have seen, in my time here, that catapults all kinds of interest and conversations. There is a comfort level.”

Bussard came to Princeton in 2013. She previously served as associate curator of photography at the Art Institute Chicago, and is the author of several books including Color Rush: American Color Photography from Stieglitz to Sherman, and Unfamiliar Streets: The Photographs of Richard Avedon, Charles Moore, Marta Rosler, and Philip-Lorca diCorcia. Her most recent exhibition and publication was “Life Magazine and the Power of Photography.”

In addition to celebrating five decades of photography at the museum, her talk will pay tribute to the legacy of Bunnell, a former director of the museum and a major influence in building the collection. Bunnell died on September 20.

Bussard will also focus on the future. The museum is in the beginning stages of a massive renovation and rebuilding project, designed by architect Sir David Adjaye and expected to open in 2024.

“This is a moment where I spend a lot of time thinking about what our new galleries can look like, what they should contain, and what stories they should tell,” Bussard said. “I’ll talk about the way photography will be a very important part of our new building. It’s a kind of convergence of past, present, and future in this moment, and I’m excited to convey that.”

The new building offers a kind of blank slate to Bussard and the curators of other departments. “All of us at the museum are thinking about how to expand the collections on view, and how to put the collections on view in ways that are innovative and responsive to the moment, putting objects in dialogue in ways that maybe the previous building just didn’t suggest,” she said. “We have an incredible opportunity to imagine new ways of viewing art, and new ways to put art on view.”

To attend Bussard’s talk, visit artmuseum.princeton.edu.