Donna Meiyun Liu
Donna’s ashes were strewn into a deep-woods spring that ultimately feeds into Princeton’s rivers and streams, on September 7th. She had asked that they be spread as soon as possible into clear running water. “Don’t leave me in a box on the shelf,” she said.
On our hikes we sometimes mentioned that this or that place would be good for our cremated remains to be returned to the earth. The spot we wound up using was a favorite, serene and beautiful, deeply grounded and verdant, like Donna.
We wanted to keep Donna’s death out of social media but asked a group of CNN colleagues and family members to spread the news through email. Eventually it crossed into the CNN Alumni Facebook page. Many won’t be able to access the site, but the string of memories and the depth and warmth of the feelings are profound. A word that kept on coming up was “mentor” and the depth of gratitude from so many people from production assistants to correspondents, anchors, editors, camera crews, TV engineers, and executives was amazing. We never realized she had helped so many people, most of them younger than her, learn to make their way in the driven, demanding world of television news. She did it not through the assertiveness that’s part of the industry, but through her quiet, elegant competence.
Donna left CNN after 18 years and pursued careers with different paths, relying on her TV production experience. Just prior to the start of the second Iraq war, she taught a seminar as a Ferris Fellow at Princeton’s Humanities Council about the role of media coverage of conflict, in which she had plenty of field and desk experience. She was on the ground for the first Iraq war, and Tiananmen and its aftermath, earthquakes in Haiti and Kobe, so much more. She moved on to the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs to launch and curate the UChannel, a video lecture series on international affairs. She later worked at TelVue, a startup video server company which supplied the digital technology for local cable stations’ public access channels to operate more efficiently. She always felt a responsibility to democratize access to media. For several years she chaired the board of Princeton Community Television, our local public access cable station.
And in the middle of all this, Donna got our family to Prague for a month to get certified as ESL teachers. The plan had been to travel widely and teach but, in the end, we wound up team-teaching evening classes of recently immigrated parents of students at a local elementary school in Twin Rivers, organized by Literacy New Jersey. Donna had a wonderful talent in front of a class. The quiet and demure woman turned out to be an engaging performer for adult students crouched around elementary school desks for three hours in the evening.
Ultimately, she turned her attention to environmental issues. For two years Donna media-managed CivicStory, a nonprofit news site posting solutions-based news about sustainability and civics. She ran the website and produced more than a score of video and print stories of her own, combining her media savvy with her community and environmental concerns.
All our hiking in the fields and mountains around Princeton made us aware of the need to use our water resources more wisely. We took a course at Rutgers on environmental stewardship. As part of the certification process, Donna produced a video on Princeton’s water story and emerged as a credible source of public knowledge about what sustains Princeton. That’s where the desire to have her ashes go into a stream with running water comes from.
She pushed on with her environmental activities well into the second and third rounds of her cancer treatment. As the disease dug into her central nervous system she would complain of her faltering capabilities. It was overwhelmingly sad as we watched this wonderfully intelligent woman lose her capacity to focus on what she had been able to spend so much of her creative life doing so well, writing and reporting.
As she wanted, Donna died at home, surrounded by her family, cousin Sandy from New Hampshire and Lynn, our housemate who lived with us in Atlanta and Hong Kong — Auntie Sandy and Auntie Lynnie to our daughters Karla and Louise. Donna was stoic, and complained only when her medication couldn’t control the pain that would overwhelm her. She was increasingly sedated as we, with the guidance of hospice nurses, worked to make her as comfortable as we could.
She died in the early morning of September 2nd fittingly, maybe, amid the flooding driven by the remnants of Hurricane Ida. The streams and rivers around us were at historically high levels and a tornado tore along Lake Carnegie.
As her illness grew worse, so many messages went unanswered, so many kind words and cards and flowers and gifts have gone unacknowledged. We hope this reaches all those who loved Donna as much as we did.
Gail Elizabeth Kohn
Gail Elizabeth Kohn, age 69, passed peacefully on Sunday, September 19, 2021 surrounded at home by loving family and friends.
She was born in New Haven, CT, the daughter of the late Immanuel and Vera Kohn.
Gail was a graduate of Princeton High School and Rider College. Her career included working for The Gallup Organization and Mathematica Policy Research.
She was an active promoter of the visual and performing arts within the Princeton community, including serving on the board of trustees of the Princeton Festival and as a member of the Princeton University Concerts Committee. She was a lifelong volunteer for libraries and numerous community organizations.
Surviving are her sister Sheila, brother Robert and wife Sue, brother Peter and wife Meg; six nephews and nieces: Megan, Emily, Michael, Jason, Sarah, and Katherine; and her grandnephew David and grandniece Hannah.
Burial services will be private.
The family requests that any gifts in Gail’s honor be sent to the Princeton Festival, the Princeton University Chamber Concert, or Institute for Advanced Study in support of the Hans Kohn Endowed Fund.
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Peter C. Bunnell
Peter C. Bunnell, whose passionate and inspired teaching profoundly changed the field of photographic history, passed away at his home in Princeton, New Jersey, on Monday, September 20, 2021. As the inaugural David Hunter McAlpin Professor of the History of Photography and Modern Art at Princeton University, a position he accepted in 1972 and held for 30 years before his retirement, Bunnell educated a generation of undergraduate and graduate students in what is still a young branch of art history; his was the first endowed professorship in the history of photography at any American university. An enthralling storyteller with a deep personal knowledge of the medium’s history, an infectious enthusiasm, and an unfailing devotion to his students, Bunnell drew capacity crowds to his undergraduate courses and attracted graduate students from across the country and beyond. A testament to the widespread and lasting influence of his teaching, Bunnell’s Princeton protégés have served as curators and professors at leading institutions including the Metropolitan Museum; the Museum of Modern Art; The Morgan Library; the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; George Eastman Museum; the Philadelphia Museum of Art; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; the International Center of Photography; the Victoria and Albert Museum; the Fotostiftung Schweiz; Aperture; Brown University; Indiana University; City College of New York; Bard College; Bowling Green State University; and Zurich University of the Arts, among others.
As curator of photography at the Princeton University Art Museum throughout his 30-year tenure on the faculty, and as Museum Director from 1973 to 1978 and Acting Director again from 1998 to 2000, Bunnell built a broad-ranging collection of photography, the firsthand examination of which became an unforgettable central element of the student experience in his classes and seminars. “These photographs are used,” he said, “they don’t just sit around in boxes.” In fact, he taught all of the discussion sections of his courses himself, always with original photographs rather than with slides. Photographer and former Princeton professor Emmet Gowin recalls Bunnell’s extraordinary gift for “awakening and reaching the hearts and minds of students of all kinds, but especially his ability to connect with and support students attempting to practice the art of photography themselves.” At the time of Bunnell’s retirement in 2002, Gowin praised his capacity to understand the work of artists “who were in no way synchronous with his own stances or world views. To a degree almost unthinkable, the collection he built at Princeton is without gender bias or cultural bias, but embracing of all that was fresh and difficult in the work of young contemporary artists.”
Allen Rosenbaum, who Bunnell hired as Assistant Director of the Museum in 1974 and who later became its Director, similarly recalls his generosity, noting that “there was no ego or vanity in his directorship.” Rosenbaum vividly recalls having been invited to a class led by Bunnell and Gowin and having come away with “a sense of the great gifts of these men as thinkers and communicators, and with the revelation — at least for me — that there was such a thing as connoisseurship in photography.”
In addition to the expansive and carefully selected collection that Bunnell built for the Museum, spanning the history of the medium, he secured two important archives — those of Pictorialist photographer Clarence H. White, the subject of his Master’s thesis at Ohio University, and Minor White, Bunnell’s own mentor as a photographer and interpreter of the medium. He met Minor White as an undergraduate at the Rochester Institute of Technology, where classes taught by White nurtured his burgeoning interest in photography. “I took his classes, and, as was his practice, he drew a group of students around him outside the Institute,” recalled Bunnell. “These were informal sessions where he explored in more depth his philosophy and attitudes toward photographing.” Bunnell went on to receive a Master of Fine Arts in photography from Ohio University in 1961 under the tutelage of Clarence H. White Jr., as well as an M.A. in art history from Yale University in 1965, where he began a doctoral dissertation on the life and work of Alfred Stieglitz.
Immediately before joining the Princeton faculty in 1972, Peter Bunnell served as curator of photography at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, where he had joined the staff in 1960 as a collection cataloguer and risen to associate curator in 1968 and curator in 1970. At MoMA, Bunnell’s achievements included groundbreaking exhibitions that offered innovative new avenues to analyze and understand photography: Photography as Printmaking (1968), and Photography into Sculpture (1970), as well as an exhibition of the work of Clarence H. White (1971). In addition to exhibitions at Princeton in subsequent years, including a continuous series of installations designed for students in his courses, Bunnell organized the Harry Callahan exhibition for the United States Pavilion at the 38th Venice Biennale in 1978.
Beyond his role as teacher and curator, Bunnell served the field in various capacities — as national chair of the Society for Photographic Education and chair of the board of The Friends of Photography — and was the recipient of numerous honors and awards including fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation (1979) and the Asian Cultural Council (1984). He was also named an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society.
Peter Bunnell wrote extensively on topics across the history of photography, though primarily about American artists, and most often about living photographers, many of whom he knew personally. His numerous essays have been anthologized in Degrees of Guidance: Essays on Twentieth-Century American Photography (1993) and Inside the Photograph: Writings on Twentieth-Century Photography (2006). His book Minor White: The Eye That Shapes, which accompanied a retrospective exhibition of White’s photographs that opened at the Museum of Modern Art in 1989, won the George Wittenborn Memorial Award of the Art Libraries Society of North America. He also authored three monographs on Jerry N. Uelsmann, his undergraduate roommate at Rochester Institute of Technology and a lifelong friend. In addition, he edited several anthologies — A Photographic Vision: Pictorial Photography, 1889–1923 (1980); Edward Weston on Photography (1983); and Aperture Magazine Anthology: The Minor White Years, 1952–1976 (2012); and co-edited two Arno Press reprint series, The Literature of Photography and The Sources of Modern Photography.
Long into retirement, Bunnell happily remained an invaluable source for researchers in the history of photography who called upon his recollections of firsthand encounters with 20th-century photographers, recollections aided by file cabinets filled with decades of carefully taken notes, newspaper clippings, and other seldom-saved ephemera — an invaluable resource that will become available to future scholars at Princeton’s Art Museum and Firestone Library.
Peter Curtis Bunnell was born in 1937 in Poughkeepsie, New York, the son of Harold C. Bunnell and Ruth L. Buckhout. He is not survived by immediate family but is held dear in the memory of the many students, scholars, artists, and curators who benefited immensely from his wisdom and deep generosity of spirit. Following his wishes, no funeral service will be held, but friends, colleagues, and protégés will gather at a later date to celebrate his life.
Extend condolences and share remembrances at TheKimbleFuneralHome.com. Photo: Richard Avedon, courtesy of the Princeton University Art Museum.