Photographs have historically functioned as both documents and pictures, a dual role that has given them a special persuasive power. The widespread use of photographs as tokens of memory, government records, or scientific findings has accorded them gravitas and authority as evidence. Although suspicions of photography have occasionally arisen, a faith in the automatic workings of photochemistry and a consensus in the reliability of the photograph as a report have generally prevailed. Throughout the history of photography, however, the technology has also astonished viewers with its capacity to produce charismatic and evocative pictures. This traffic in visual rhetoric and effect has existed uneasily alongside the reputation of photography for reliable reportage. The objects on display have been chosen to enable students and visitors to address key moments and issues in the complex history of photography as an engine of belief.
Hung in conjunction with the course A History of Photography (CULTBLF, Fall 2015) taught by Robin E. Kelsey, Shirley Carter Burden Professor of Photography. The University Teaching Gallery serves faculty and students affiliated with Harvard’s Department of History of Art and Architecture. Semester-long installations are mounted in conjunction with undergraduate and graduate courses, supporting instruction in the critical analysis of art.
This installation is made possible in part by funding from the Gurel Student Exhibition Fund and the José Soriano Fund. Modern and contemporary art programs at the Harvard Art Museums are made possible in part by generous support from the Emily Rauh Pulitzer and Joseph Pulitzer, Jr., Fund for Modern and Contemporary Art.