We asked W.M. Hunt, photography collector, writer, and curator, to tell us about a picture that meant something to him and why.
Part of the attraction here is the mystery. It looks like a layer cake of heads, an architectural mass (or mess). The shallow depth of field puts the faces in focus, hovering in front of us, but there is no density: they are literally on top of each other. The risers lift up too high, too quickly.
What, actually, is the studio name? “Tupper?” From the loopy script in the bottom right, it could be “Tuhher” or “Tunner.” Where are we, other than in front of a generic-looking institutional brick building, and who are these pleasant-looking fellows, who appear to be graduating? If we recognized the insignia on their lapels, we might know something.
All we know is that it is 1903. The picture is good-looking. It is tidy. The print is unusually rich with grays in a pinkish cast. The piece was undoubtedly commissioned to document this group at this moment in time but the “who,” “what,” “where,” and “how” are, now, lost to us.
Now it transcends its anonymity into handsomeness.
We don’t have much experience looking at pictures of groups. We are used to getting most of our information in a glance, a moment. With these photographs our eyes skitter around the image. It’s work.
In 1994, Douglas Blau organized the show STILLS at the Museum of Modern Art, with over 200 8×10 movie images with groups of people – everything from card players to courtroom dramas to epic processions. That may have quietly fueled my Collection Blind Pirate – American Groups before 1950. These include panoramas, banquet-style celebrations, and press prints, and 250 of them will go on view at the Rencontres d’Arles in France this summer as Foule – the W.M. Hunt Collection.