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Independent study exhibit highlights Clarence Kennedy

By STEPHANIE GALL, ’14
The Wellesley News
October 27, 2010

A photography exhibit displaying the unique work of Clarence Kennedy is currently on view on the sculpture floor of Jewett Art Center. The gallery, titled “Pedagogy Through Photography: Photographs by Clarence Kennedy of Italian Renaissance and Ancient Sculpture,” was compiled by art history student Daisy Zhang ’11 as an independent study project and will run until Nov. 14.

Clarence Kennedy (1892-1972) was an art history professor at Smith College with a keen interest in sculpture. His style of photography is unique in that he photographed sculpture, but highlighted only a small portion of the entire piece. By taking multiple photos of a single carving from various angles, the sculpture’s many facets are emphasized and the piece can be appreciated in an entirely new manner. It was Kennedy’s goal for the viewer to “see all the different details and see the work of art as a whole,” explained Professor of Art History Jacqueline Musacchio, who advised Zhang on the project. “You really get encompassed by the work of art.”

Clarence Kennedy

In addition to his skill in drawing attention to the details of a piece, Kennedy was a master of lighting. He was fond of manipulating shadows to accent certain features. He even designed his own camera in order to obtain the most perfect picture possible. “It’s interesting for me,” said Zhang, “to look at a detail and go back to the big image and realize what I thought was a fantastic work of art was only a minor detail of the sculpture.”

Zhang began this project after looking at the old collection of cardboard mounted prints by Kennedy stored in the Wellesley basement. Art students used to study from these prints before online access to art became widely available. Especially today, these tangible photographs bring a new character to the study of art history.

The exhibit features Kennedy’s Italian Renaissance and ancient Greek photographs, which were compiled during his time spent in Europe. It also highlights a folio that Kennedy donated to Wellesley College and other photos of his that were purchased independently. In order to match each photograph in the display with the specific folio it originated from, Zhang did an immense amount of investigation. “Before doing this project I didn’t know who he was or what he did,” Zhang said. But after researching Kennedy in the Washington D.C. archives, the National Gallery of Art and Harvard University, where Kennedy’s journals and even wedding announcements are available, she came “to know this man as an artist and art historian.” She aknowledged, “I probably wouldn’t have learned about [him] if I hadn’t taken this independent study.”

It is her hope that students who attend the exhibit will find the “quality of photos really arresting at first glance.” Indeed, Kennedy’s works are significant for more than their intriguing beauty. His prints have the unique ability to portray sculpture through a photographic medium that allows for new ways of viewing the subject. And further, each individual photograph becomes its own separate work of art. In studying these prints and Kennedy’s exquisite manipulation of lighting, Zhang gushed about Kennedy’s ability to “make something mundane so beautiful.”

Clarence Kennedy

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