Peter C. Bunnell has made a generous donation of papers to the Princeton University Art Museum
Peter C. Bunnell, David Hunter McAlpin Professor of the History of Photography and Modern Art Emeritus, has made a generous donation of papers to the Princeton University Art Museum. These papers include more than thirty years of Bunnell’s correspondence as well as important materials connecting his scholarship and curatorial projects to the Museum’s Minor White and Clarence H. White (no relation) archival collections.
Bunnell first met the artist Minor White as an undergraduate at the Rochester Institute of Technology, where classes taught by White nurtured his burgeoning interest in photography. “I took his classes, and, as was his practice, he drew a group of students around him outside the Institute,” recalls Bunnell. “These were informal sessions where he explored in more depth his philosophy and attitudes toward photographing.” Bunnell soon became White’s assistant at Aperture magazine and worked with the photographer intermittently over the next several years. Inspired by his mentor, Bunnell pursued an MFA at Ohio University, where he was taught by Clarence H. White Jr., whose father had been a founding member of the Photo-Secession, celebrated for his beautiful scenes of quiet domesticity and outdoor idylls, as well as an influential teacher.
From 1966 to 1972, Bunnell was a curator of photography at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, where he mounted the first survey of the work of Clarence H. White in 1971. One year later, Bunnell became the first person to hold an endowed chair in the history of photography, accepting the position of inaugural David Hunter McAlpin Professor of Photography and Modern Art at Princeton. He worked simultaneously as a curator at the Princeton University Art Museum and served as the Museum’s director from 1972 to 1978 and again as acting director from 1998 to 2000.
At Bunnell’s request, Minor White made several visits to Princeton’s campus, where he lectured and conducted seminars. Upon White’s death in 1976, he bequeathed his archive—a rich repository comprising over 20,000 prints, over 19,000 negatives, an extensive personal journal, correspondence, papers, and more—to the Museum’s collections. (Some of this material is now online at the Minor White Archive website, thanks to a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services that supported extensive cataloguing of more than 6,000 objects.) Just two years after Minor White’s bequest, Clarence H. White Jr. donated to the Museum his father’s extensive archive, including more than 1,000 finished prints; approximately 2,000 negatives, lantern slides, and autochromes; nearly 500 works by forty-three other leading photographers and associates; and nearly 4,000 photographs by students of the Clarence H. White School, the first in the country to teach photography as an art.
These collections came to the Museum thanks to Bunnell’s long-standing personal and intellectual engagement with these two photographers, making it only fitting that their materials will now be augmented by those from his long and illustrious career—not least because Bunnell continues to think and write about these two artists. In 2012, he published Aperture Magazine Anthology: The Minor White Years, 1952–1976, and in 2017 he contributed to the Museum’s catalogue Clarence H. White and His World: The Art and Craft of Photography, 1895–1925.
We look forward to debuting an online finding aid for Bunnell’s papers related to both Minor White and Clarence H. White in the months ahead.