Teaching from "Life"

Princeton professor Katherine Reischl with students in the exhibition, February 2020By the opening day of Life Magazine and the Power of Photography, the Art Museum had more than fifteen classes scheduled to engage with the exhibition, including my own course, “Getting the Picture: Photojournalism in the US and Russia,” co-taught with Katherine Reischl, assistant professor in Slavic Languages and Literatures. Happily, many of the class visits were scheduled for the first few weeks of the exhibition, and these proved highly productive for student inquiry and debate. The opportunity to view a photographer’s contact sheets of negatives together with vintage prints of those photographs and the final published images in Life illuminated the many decisions made by the magazine’s editors in the process of choosing, cropping, and captioning images. Students scrutinized page layouts and the placement and meaning of text around seminal photographs in the magazine. In addition, class conversations centered on the curatorial research and decisions that influenced the exhibition’s structure and selection of works. I tailored these visits to the specific topics, readings, and research of each class, from “Race and Politics in the United States” to “Introduction to Media Theory” to the Molecular Biology lab group.

Still from a video of curator Katherine Bussard discussing objects in Life Magazine and the Power of Photography With the temporary closing of the Museum on March 15, our staff moved swiftly to help replicate online the specificity of teaching in the galleries. Videos made in the exhibition have been edited and posted for students, now scattered around the globe, to watch in advance of online discussions. (Versions of these videos are now available for all on the exhibition website.) Images of works in the exhibition have been made available for student presentations about essays from the accompanying publication. We have been learning as we go, to be sure; however, the shift to online resources has also provided new opportunities. For instance, it allowed me to reach out to faculty at other institutions near and far, including colleagues at Rutgers, New York University, City University of New York, University of Delaware, University College Dublin, and University of Oxford. The list of faculty interested in teaching from the exhibition has grown by the week, and as we continue to offer ways for classes to engage meaningfully with the exhibition and publication online, we look forward to the moment when we can welcome visitors back into the galleries.

Katherine A. Bussard, Peter C. Bunnell Curator of Photography