Two substantial collections of photography recently donated to Hobart and William Smith Colleges showcase both the private lives of ordinary people and major cultural turning points of the 20th century, as captured by some of the most celebrated and influential photographers of the past 100 years.
The Agah Collection, a gift from Jim and Wendy Agah of Westport, Conn., focuses primarily on works by Jacques Lowe, Flip Schulke, Edward Quigley, Bill Witt, Leonard Freed, Dmititri Baltermants and Ken Heyman.
The Stephanopoulos Collection, a gift from journalist George Stephanopoulos, features work from a range of photographers depicting politics and institutions, television and media, Civil Rights movements and the Great Depression, including the work of photojournalists who produced wire photographs for news outlets.
In total, the donations add nearly 1,000 new items to the Collections of Hobart and William Smith Colleges and approximately double the Collections’ market value.
“It’s a remarkable and important addition to the stellar assemblage of art on campus,” says President Joyce P. Jacobsen. “These gifts will provide immeasurable inspirational and educational value for our faculty, our students and the greater community of art enthusiasts. We are incredibly grateful to Jim and Wendy Agah and to George Stephanopoulos for their generosity and their recognition of the impact these works will have at HWS.”
While they reflect a range of subjects, perspectives, media and artistic movements, many of the works in the Agah Collection and the Stephanopoulos Collection have “a ‘snapshot’ quality” that belies “the skill and artistic labor needed to make something seem effortless,” says Anna Wager, the Colleges’ visual arts curator.
“What we have, really, are powerful, poignant, unflinching images of people and places, some in really dangerous, damaging or damaged circumstances,” Wager says. “There is a privilege and a duty in being able to view their lives in this way, and I look forward to working with the HWS community in dissecting the webs that connect these artists and their works.”
Most of the photos are gelatin silver prints, notable for their smooth image surface and brilliant clarity in tone. These new additions also feature albumen prints of landscapes from the 19th century; more conceptual work by artists like Patrick Nagatani; social portraits by Erika Stone; distinctive images of Manhattan taken by Danny Lyon; early works by Ilse Bing, associated with French and German surrealism; and prints by the Italian photographer Mario Giacomelli, who has ties to New Wave cinema.
Together, the gifts from the Agahs and Stephanopoulos represent a wide range of photographic art, “applicable to disciplines from art history and studio art to political science, media and society, sociology, Russian area studies and American studies, among others,” Wager says.
These significant donations add to the existing photographic holdings at HWS by artists like Robert Doisneau, Elliott Erwitt, Ralph Gibson and Arthur Rothstein, expanding in both the areas of documentary and art photography.