MFA photography exhibit captures the past

Oldphoto

More than 300 photographs, such as this one taken in the 1950s, are on display at the MFA as gifts from Peter J. Cohen. (Photo from MFA.org)

By Jennifer Ives
Staff Writer

Imagine, if you will, the advent of the mass-produced camera. Throughout the 19th century, thousands of ordinary citizens were suddenly able to afford their very own cameras, and Americans turned into shutterbugs overnight.

Despite having no blogs to share their passions on and no Instagram in order to post their finest works on, people across the country were taking photos of the same exact things. And a certain man named Peter J. Cohen noticed this.

Over the years, Mr. Cohen has purchased, rescued, and collected over 50,000 snapshots from the 1800s, from garage sales, friends, Ebay, and antique dealers, and now 300 carefully selected and curated shots are available for viewing in the MFA.

Titled “Unfinished Stories,” this collection tells a tale of common themes and imagery, sorted as it is by often unexpected criteria, such as “double exposure,” “hula madness” and “photographers shadows.”

Displayed in shared frames according to Mr. Cohen’s occasionally eccentric thematic organization, the 300 snapshots span an entire hallway, representing a step back into a century that was a pivotal turning point in so many ways.

From the fall of the Holy Roman Empire to the Industrial Revolution, these photos are not focused perfectly on these pivotal moments. Instead, they capture the true essence of the century: the average citizen’s children, possessions, triumphs and selfies aplenty.

Running until Feb. 21, 2016, “Unfinished Stories” is a magnificently immersive step into our collective pasts, and a surprisingly thoughtful insight into the passions and interests that excite and connect us all.

Since the MFA is free to Simmons students with a college ID and only a four or so minute walk away, “Unfinished Stories” is the perfect lunch time or study break to take, large enough to encompass the sheer breadth of material that exists, and at the same time slim enough to all be seen in one trip. This is one collection to definitely keep in mind as finals approach and quiet spaces for reflection become more limited.

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