The photographic images in the Princeton Art Museum’s new exhibition may appear uncomplicated at first glance, but, as curator of photography Katherine A. Bussard says, “The title of the exhibition, ‘Revealing Pictures,’ comes from the fact that these seemingly straightforward images have layers of information that really end up changing the effect of the image itself.”
Bussard should know. She culled the exhibition’s 37 images created by 10 international photographers from the collection of Christopher E. Olofson, Princeton Class of 1992. The exhibit is on view from Saturday, February 4, through Sunday, July 2.
The collector came to Princeton from suburban Kansas City and majored in East Asian studies. After Princeton, he spent a year as a Fulbright Scholar, working on Chinese language and literature at the Stanford Center for East Asian Studies in Taipei.
Until his retirement in 2014, he served as president and chief operating officer of New York-based Epiq Systems Inc., a company providing global technology services for large corporate legal departments and law firms. In 2015 he founded Olofson Technology Partners in Chicago, where he lives with his domestic partner, Keith L. Shimko, an associate professor of political science at Purdue University.
According to museum and university information, Olofson began collecting contemporary fine art photography 15 years ago, and the exhibition represents his ongoing involvement with the Princeton University Art Museum, including his service as a member of its advisory council since 2011. Other museum engagement includes serving on the advisory councils of the Asia Society and Museum in New York City and the Museum of Contemporary Photography at Columbia College Chicago.
Bussard says Olofson’s collection is notable for its size, artists represented, and scope of the work. “This exhibition is just one sampling of a much larger and much more expansive collection. What I’d tried to do with this exhibition is suggest both the breadth of the overall collection as well as Olofson’s depth with certain artists.”
Those artists — many of whom are working on series in narrative or documentary style — include Nikolay Bakharev, a self-trained Russian-born photographer who created a body of work examining personal and physical relationships; Edmund Clark, a British artist who uses photography, found imagery, and text to explore links between representation and politics; and Daniel and Geo Fuchs, German photographers whose work includes an examination of East Germany’s secret rooms where information on citizens was stored.
Also the late British photojournalist Tim Hetherington, who covered political upheaval in Western Africa, the war in Afghanistan, Second Liberian Civil War, and the Sierra Leone Civil War, where he produced the series “Inner Light: Portraits of the Blind”; and Robert Polidori, an U.S.-based photographer who specializes in visual explorations of human habitats and environments and how they are affected by disasters and population growth.
And Alec Soth, an American who works in the “On the Road” tradition and created the series “Sleeping by the Mississippi”; and Liu Zheng, a photojournalist for a leading Chinese newspapers who documented a nation struggling with the forces of traditional culture and modernization.
And while all of the above photographers are engaged with preserving contemporary moments and demonstrating photography’s ability to explore issues of identity and place, two additional artists help put the exhibition in a larger context.
Zanele Muholi, who will be a featured speaker on Thursday, February 9, began making a series of portraits as a form of visual activism in response to crimes against gays and women in her native South Africa. She says her mission is “to rewrite a black queer and trans visual history of South Africa for the world to know of our resistance and existence at the height of hate crimes in South Africa and beyond.”
In a 2013 interview with the Huffington Post’s Gay Voices Muholi says, “The message that I wanted to share with the people is that you can’t change the laws without changing the image. You need to change the image in order to educate people. My work instills visual activism. It’s one thing to theorize about LGBT rights, but it something to visualize the people that you are talking about.”
And Pieter Hugo is a South African photographer who documents images of marginalized peoples, including the blind, albinos, AIDS victims in their coffins, and children born after 1994 in his homeland and Rwanda. In an essay about his work Hugo writes, “South Africa is such a fractured, schizophrenic, wounded, and problematic place. Issues of race and cultural custodianship permeate every aspect of society here and the legacy of apartheid casts a long shadow.”
Bussard says the exhibition’s power comes from its “very strong connection to contemporary life and current events” and “to the extent that we know that those events will go down in history, these artistic responses to them are also likely to have a great impact decades from now.”
In addition to the exhibition, the museum has planned four public events. The first, as noted earlier, is the artist talk with Muholi on Thursday, February 9, at 6 p.m. in McCosh Hall 10. The event includes a book signing and reception in the museum.
The next is “Revealing Humanity: A Conversation about Visual Identity in Postcolonial South Africa” on Thursday, March 9, at 5 p.m. at the museum. The panel discussion will focus on Muholi’s “Faces and Phases,” a series of photographs documenting the artist’s black lesbian, transgender, and queer community living in South Africa. Panelists include Anna Arabindan-Kesson, assistant professor of art and archaeology and African American studies; Nijah Cunningham, a lecturer in African American studies and English; and Jacob Dlamini, South African journalist, historian, and associate professor of history at Princeton University.
An artist Talk: Edmund Clark follows on Thursday, April 6, at 6 p.m. in McCosh Hall 10 (book signing and reception in the museum follows) with Clark touching on his recent work that exploring the hidden aspects of the “Global War on Terror.”
And “Revealing war: A Conversation about Art and Journalism in the 21st Century” on Thursday, April 20, at 4:30 p.m. uses Hetherington’s work to launch the discussion with panelists Nicholas Schmidle, visiting lecturer in the Humanities Council, staff writer at the New Yorker, and author of “To Live or to Perish Forever: Two Tumultuous Years in Pakistan”; Daniel Heyman, lecturer in visual arts at the Lewis Center for the Arts and creator of the Abu Ghraib Detainee Interview Project; and curator Bussard.
Revealing Pictures: Photographs from the Christopher E. Olofson Collection, Princeton University Art Museum, Princeton. Saturday, February 4, through Sunday, July 2, Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Thursday, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., and Sunday, 1 to 5 p.m. Admission and events are free. 609-258-3788 or artmuseum.princeton.edu.