From April 2 through June 1, 2019, the student-curated exhibition “Intentional Exposure: Photography from the Permanent Collection,” was on view at the Oklahoma State University Museum of Art in the Malinda Berry Fischer Gallery. Part of my Spring 2019 course on the history of photography and museum studies, the exhibition prompted a series of responses from students. Those responses will be featured on the blog throughout the next few months—this week, with a post by architecture student Hope Bailey.
As the only architecture student helping curate Intentional Exposure: Photography from the Permanent Collection at the OSU Museum of Art, my experience was incredibly enriching. I was tasked with doing something that had absolutely nothing to do with my profession – writing the catalogue essays – and, overall, it was a wonderful experience! While writing certainly isn’t my area of expertise, it was still interesting trying to analyze the prominent themes in the exhibition and reflect on our experiences as a class working with the incredible photographs from the OSU Museum of Art’s collection.
Though writing essays was a challenging and refreshing change of pace, what I found most enjoyable from the whole experience was drawing those first, early concepts of the exhibition. In a way, this was the part that related most to my career in architecture; visually analyzing, finding aesthetic connections between different works, and thinking deeply about concepts that could connect the works are all things that I’ve done in my career and will continue to do professionally. However, doing those things formally for a museum exhibition as opposed to buildings was an interesting treat, especially when working with several people with backgrounds in art history.
When we were first tasked with making connections between three broad categories from the photography collection – landscape, photojournalism, and abstract – my contemporary-design-oriented mind went straight for the abstract works, making visual connections about technique and design. After hearing the interests and connections other students were making and then arguing for the abstract works, I found that I was one of the few who shared this mindset among the class of curators.
At that point in the semester, I didn’t understand why so many people cared so much about the historical, photojournalistic works that now make up much of the exhibition. This perception was truly changed over the course of the semester as I learned more about the history of photography and began to understand what made those photojournalistic photographs, which I had hardly given a second thought to, so great. In addition to learning about the larger movements that shaped modern photography, doing my own research on photographers like Arnold Genthe made me understand that street photography can be emotional as well as documentary, as most of his photographs were incredibly invasive for his subjects in Chinatown.
Understanding historical contexts like in the photograph I got to write about, Their First Photograph, made me appreciate photography more wholly, and allowed me to begin to understand how historical photographs are beautiful and thought-provoking. For that, I’m incredibly grateful that I was able to have this experience both in curating Intentional Exposure, and in learning a bit about the history of photography – these have shaped my design career and appreciation for history greatly, and will be memorable for the rest of my life.