Art History Department Chair Adam Jolles was awarded a $13,000 Planning Grant by the Florida State University Center on Research and Creativity (CRC) to further study “The Curatorial History of Photography in the United States.” His project examines the emergence of photography as a field of interest in American museums between 1937 and 1991, a period that witnessed radical transformations in the display, practice, and teaching of the medium. It investigates as well the extent to which such transformations can be tied to the origins of the discourse on “visual literacy,” the belief that audiences and viewers can be trained to perceive imagery as a language bound by certain rules and structuring principles.
Jolles’s research focuses on the four most important and influential curators of photography in the United States—Beaumont Newhall, Edward Steichen, Nathan Lyons and John Szarkowski. These four figures fundamentally altered the way we have come to think about photography, primarily through their work at two institutions, the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the George Eastman House in Rochester. In addition to examining their scholarship on photography’s historically instrumental role in the fields of politics, science and geographical exploration, he will address how they ushered photography onto museum walls and out from the books and portfolios to which the medium had been restricted since its invention, a shift that in turn altered the very ambitions and practice of contemporary art photography.