October 28, 2010  |  Artists, Collection & Exhibitions
The Ordinary and the Monumental: Recent Photography Acquisitions at MoMA

Carleton Watkins. Late George Cling Peaches. 1887–88

I’ve recently had the good fortune to assume the role of cataloguer in MoMA’s Department of Photography. The greatest perk of my position is simply that I get to work with the photographs in the Museum’s collection on a daily basis. One of my first tasks in the department was to catalog a number of important works that recently entered the collection—some by purchase, some by gift. Among my favorites were three photographs by Carleton Watkins, including this awe-inspiring albumen silver print of a crate of peaches; works by Judith Joy Ross and Inge Morath; and a collection of snapshots that came in as the generous gift of New York collector Peter J. Cohen.

The snapshots donated by Mr. Cohen—more than 250 individual photographs and seven albums containing several hundred more—span much of the twentieth century and encompass many different processes, including gelatin silver, cyanotype, collodion, chromogenic color, and Polaroids. This stunning collection offers a visual history of amateur photographers’ engagement with the medium.

I recall one of my first days at the Museum, when curator Sarah Meister exclaimed, “I love photography!” while looking through these snapshots, a sentiment shared by all in our department. And it’s true, while these snapshots were selected by a curator’s eye, they are not unlike the ones we have at home stored in boxes and albums, or displayed on our office desks. Mostly portraits, the collection of posed and unposed photographs document sitters we do not know, but whose faces and personalities still seem familiar.

It is my hope that in sharing a selection of these works—which came to the Museum at about the same time as I did!—virtual visitors will get a better sense of the richness, depth, and constantly evolving character of our photography collection.