Presented by: Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts
Runs: July 7-September 24
Level 3, Sert Gallery
Fifty Photographs constitutes the final episode of Martin Beck’s Program at the Carpenter Center. Over the course of his two-year residency Beck has focused on various points of public interface that define the Carpenter Center as an institution. These points include physical spaces, curriculum, student relations, media relations, and time-based instances of connecting with the public, such as talks and screenings. To date, all of these components have been considered in distinct episodes. This final episode focuses on the role of the exhibition form and the collection as a teaching resource as well as a mode of general public address. Beck’s Fifty Photographs consists of the gathering and reassembly of a selection of photographs originally presented in a 1966 exhibition titled Fifty Photographs at Harvard, 1844–1966, composed of 61 photographs. Drawn from the then Carpenter Center’s developing photography collection, the photographs were originally amassed as a teaching tool, cared for by Davis Pratt, who served as Curator of Still Photography at the Carpenter Center from 1966 to 1971. The collection was later dispersed and partially transferred to the Fogg Art Museum and other Harvard collections. It also had included photographs made by students of the Carpenter Center’s Visual Studies courses of the 1960s. Those photographs have not been transferred and their current location is unknown.
A selection of photographs from the 1966 exhibition are presented in Beck’s Fifty Photographs along with archival documents about the role of photography at Harvard and the organization of the original exhibition. These documents reveal the underlying pedagogic philosophy and reasoning for a photography collection at the university, images ranging from historical accounts of explorations of the American West, to ethnographic documentary records of South Sea Islanders, to depictions of late-nineteenth century urban social conditions in the United States and Europe. In every instance, photography was viewed as a means to both shape student knowledge of social, political and ecological issues while encouraging a more acute awareness and reading of the visual environment.
Program by Martin Beck manifests through a sequence of interventions, installations, events, and publications that draw upon the exhibition histories and academic pursuits of the Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts and Department of Visual and Environmental Studies at Harvard University. This sequence—each node of which Beck considers an episode—lends particular attention to the founding program of the Carpenter Center, which sought to cultivate its position as simultaneously an iconic modernist building, school, and exhibition venue. In the early years of the program, exhibitions, public discussions, and screenings, ambitious in scope and depth, were regarded as integral to the pedagogical concept of a visual arts education. The Carpenter Center, in its entirety, performed an exhibition of education; a performance that occurred in both its educative framework and its public outreach. Beck’s work, Program, to unfold over the next two years, pulls this history into the present, reflecting the institution’s aspirations back onto itself.