Peter C. Bunnell, 83, Dies; Introduced Educational Rigor to History of Photography – The New York Times

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Peter C. Bunnell, who over a 35-year profession on the Museum of Modern Art and Princeton University remodeled the historical past of images from a aspect curiosity amongst skilled photographers to a rigorous tutorial self-discipline, died on Sept. 20 at his dwelling in Princeton, N.J. He was 83.

Malcolm Daniel, an executor of his property who studied underneath Professor Bunnell and is now a curator on the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, stated the trigger was melanoma.

It is a measure of Professor Bunnell’s success that right this moment images is certainly accepted as each a high quality artwork and a self-discipline worthy of historic scholarship. Things had been completely different within the late Nineteen Fifties, when he entered school: He needed to wrestle to seek out professors, not to mention packages, that took the topic significantly.

“There were lots of schools where you could learn to take pictures,” he said in an interview with The New York Times in 1972. “But despite a growing awareness of still photography’s importance, there was no program anywhere to study its aesthetics and history.”

At Yale, he was the primary scholar within the artwork historical past division to work on a dissertation about images. When he moved from the Museum of Modern Art in New York to Princeton, in 1972, he assumed the nation’s first endowed chair within the historical past of images.

By the time he retired, in 2002, issues had modified: Any worthwhile artwork historical past program had a images focus, whereas the images collections grew dramatically at museums and libraries. And in lots of, many instances, the curators and professors who oversaw these efforts had educated underneath Professor Bunnell.

“We were seduced by his charisma and energy and knowledge of the discipline,” Mr. Daniel stated.

Unlike many main artwork historians, Professor Bunnell by no means wrote a landmark e book or created a pioneering idea. His significance lay in his imaginative and prescient for his discipline and his skill to indicate his college students how you can get there.

He helped them get the best fellowships, produce the best dissertations and discover the best affiliate curator positions — all drawing on his thick community of artists and students.

“He set them on a professional track as much as he did on an intellectual track,” Joel Smith, one other former scholar who’s now on the Morgan Library & Museum in Manhattan, stated in an interview.

Professor Bunnell’s ardour was not confined to graduate seminars. Many of his college students first got here to the sphere after taking one in every of his all the time oversubscribed survey programs, through which the variety of registered college students was ceaselessly matched by auditors, drop-ins and even townspeople who had heard about his lectures.

Emmet Gowin, a photographer and colleague, recalled the ebullience that bubbled into his afternoon studio from Professor Bunnell’s class, which regularly met within the late morning.

“Again and again, my students would come to class raving about the course they were just in,” he stated. “He was able to open minds and hearts to the viability of photography as being something transcendent.”

Peter Curtis Bunnell was born on Dec. 25, 1937, in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. His father, Harold C. Bunnell, was a mechanical engineer with a neighborhood instrument producer, and his mom, Ruth L. (Buckhout) Bunnell, was a homemaker. He left no fast survivors.

His curiosity in images developed early, as a lot out of a love for the medium as a need to flee his father’s insistence that he pursue engineering, he instructed Aperture magazine. He purchased his first digicam, an Argus C3, as an adolescent and commandeered a closet at dwelling for his darkroom.

Aspiring to be a style photographer, he enrolled on the Rochester Institute of Technology, which had begun providing a four-year diploma in images, one of many first establishments within the nation to take action.

His programs had been heavy on chemistry and expertise, however one stood out: a studio class with the acclaimed modernist photographer Minor White (who, Professor Bunnell favored to notice, additionally shot with an Argus C3).

The two struck up a mentor-mentee relationship. Among different issues, Mr. White edited Aperture, the primary journal devoted to images as an artwork, and he had Mr. Bunnell write articles, correspond with photographers and manage his private assortment.

Mr. Bunnell acquired a grasp’s diploma in high quality arts from Ohio University in 1961 and one other grasp’s, in artwork historical past, from Yale in 1965, after which he started engaged on a dissertation in regards to the photographer Alfred Stieglitz.

He by no means accomplished his doctorate; it was exhausting to seek out assist from establishments that also refused to see images as a high quality artwork, and he had different alternatives. He joined the Museum of Modern Art in 1966 and inside 4 years was the curator for its division of images, working underneath the museum’s famend director of images John Szarkowski.

Professor Bunnell produced a variety of groundbreaking reveals on the museum, together with “Photography Into Sculpture” (1970), which introduced images as three-dimensional objects, forcing viewers to think about them as one thing greater than reproducible photographs, and quite as bodily artifacts that occupied the identical area because the individuals taking a look at them.

“The photographs were claiming the space that had once been claimed only by sculpture and painting,” one other of his former college students, Sarah Meister, now the manager director of the Aperture Foundation, stated in an interview.

He introduced the identical method with him to his instructing at Princeton. Refusing to work with slides, he would draw from the college’s ever-growing images assortment — one in every of his many initiatives — to indicate college students negatives, prints and different artifacts.

Professor Bunnell retired in 2002, the identical yr he served as a lead guide to the U.S. Postal Service on a sequence of stamps that includes well-known images.

“I feel like some sort of celebrity,” he instructed a reporter for U.S. 1, a newspaper in Princeton. “They printed 10 million sheets, and people are sending them to me to autograph.”


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