The Unseen Eye: Photographs from the W.M. Hunt Collection

August 17, 2011 | Mark Goldstein | Photographers , Events | Comment |

The Unseen Eye: Photographs from the W.M. Hunt Collection is a new exhibition at the George Eastman House International Museum of Photography and Film. More than 500 photographs by the masters of the medium will be on view Oct. 1, 2011 through Feb. 19, 2012. W.M. Hunt is a renowned curator and dealer who has been collecting photographs for 40 years.

George Eastman House opens The Unseen Eye: Photographs from the W.M. Hunt Collection Oct. 1

More than 500 “magical images of people in which the eyes cannot be seen” in first major U.S. showing of “The Unseen Eye”

ROCHESTER, N.Y. – All eyes will be on George Eastman House International Museum of Photography and Film this fall as it presents one the largest exhibitions in its history — The Unseen Eye: Photographs from the W.M. Hunt Collection. More than 500 photographs by the masters of the medium will be on view Oct. 1, 2011 through Feb. 19, 2012. The Eastman House is dedicating all of its primary gallery space to this exhibition.

Earlier this year The New Yorker referred to the collector as “the legendary” W.M. Hunt. He is a renowned curator and dealer who has been collecting photographs for 40 years. A self-described “champion of photography,” he is well-known for his “eye” and sense of humor. Hunt describes the collection as “magical, heart-stopping images of people in which the eyes cannot be seen.”

The photographs of The Unseen Eye have a common theme — the gaze of the subject is averted, the face obscured, or the eyes firmly closed. The images evoke a wide range of emotions and are characterized, by what, at first glance, the subject conceals rather than what the camera reveals.

Eastman House will present the first major U.S. exhibition of the collection, from which Aperture is simultaneously publishing a book titled The Unseen Eye: Photographs from the Unconscious, to be released in October. Highlights from the collection have previously been seen in Europe at the Rencontres de la Photographie in Arles, France; the Musée de l’Elysée in Lausanne, Switzerland; and Foam-Fotografiemuseum in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. 

“This collection and exhibition represent a very personal journey for me,” Hunt said. “It is my conscious made manifest. These are all photos of me. But they’re all of you, too. They are evocative, whimsical, representational, many things. I love the mystery of it. You have to react, to come to the image, to make up your own story.”

The collector’s first purchase was an Imogen Cunningham photograph, in which the subject’s eyes are veiled and unseen by the camera. This now extensive collection of haunting photographs reflects Hunt’s surreal vision and includes Weegee’s multi-imaged portrait of Andy Warhol in sunglasses, the breakthrough news photo of Ruth Snyder in the electric chair in 1928, and Robert Mapplethorpe’s photographs of artist Alice Neel shortly before her death. Vintage and contemporary black and white images join photographs in vibrant colors to create a picture of humanity from birth to death, from the banal to the transcendent.

The featured works range from daguerreotype to digital by photographers such as Berenice Abbot, Richard Avedon, Robert Frank, Lee Friedlander, Annie Leibovitz, Robert Mapplethorpe, Irving Penn, Man Ray, Edward Steichen, Edward Weston, and Joel-Peter Witkin, as well as 19th-century work from Nadar, Alinari, and Roger Fenton. The whole range of photographic processes, as well as different formats, is featured via the 500 photographs, selected from the 1,500 images in the collection. The most recent acquisition is a triptych of film stills from Jean-Luc Godard’s “Le Petit Soldat.” The largest is a hand-colored self-portrait by Dutch artist Teun Hocks and the smallest is a photo-booth self-portrait by the Surrealist André Breton. The oldest object is a gravure of the Shroud of Turin by Secondo Pio.

The exhibition also includes work by contemporary photo-based artists — some of whom have not yet been shown at Eastman House — such as Mitch Epstein, Steven Klein, and Kiki Smith. Hunt is a long-time supporter of emerging talent.  He selected a portrait by Carrie Levy as the cover image of his book’s U.S. version. As a dealer he introduced talents such as Elinor Carucci, Luc Delahaye, Michael Flomen, Bohnchang Koo, Luis Mallo, Erwin Olaf, and Paolo Ventura, and as a writer he has worked with Bill Armstrong, Mark Beard, Manuel Geerinck, and Jeff Sheng — all of whom are represented by work in the collection and exhibition. 

The Unseen Eye exhibition features little wall text, but it does include video commentaries by Hunt, with personal responses to these images gathered over many years and his insights into the psychology of collecting.

Eastman House will feature a small accompanying exhibition of “unseen eyes” selected by Hunt from the museum’s unparalleled permanent collection. These range from Dorothea Lange’s 1933 photograph “White Angel Bread Line,” to an unattributed 1850 daguerreotype of a blind man holding a cat. A related online exhibition will include hundreds of vernacular photographs —snapshots — from Hunt’s collection. 

Hunt has had a long relationship with Eastman House as well as with photography. “George Eastman House is excited about this special collaboration with this insightful collector,” said Dr. Alison Nordström, Eastman House curator of photographs and director of exhibitions. “We have always understood ourselves as a collection of collections, beginning with Kodak’s Eastman Historical Collection and the collections of Gabriel Cromer, Alden Scott Boyer, Alvin Langdon Coburn, and Edward Steichen. The idiosyncratic eye of an individual private collector offers a rich and varied complement to our institutional holdings.”

W.M. Hunt and Featured Artists in Person Eastman House will welcome W.M. Hunt for a public lecture about The Unseen Eye at 6 p.m. Friday, Oct. 21, in the Dryden Theatre, followed by a booksigning and reception for museum members. The Unseen Eye: Photographs from the Unconscious (Aperture, $75) will be sold on site at the Eastman House Store following the lecture. Admission will be $12 adults, $10 seniors, and $5 students.

The next day, from 9:30 a.m. to 12 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 22, Hunt and artists whose work is featured in The Unseen Eye will present a panel discussion of their work next door to Eastman House at The Hutchison, 930 East Ave. Following the talk, the artists will sign copies of Hunt’s book and photo books of their own. Included with museum admission: $12 adults, $10 seniors, and $5 students. Tickets can be purchased that day at Eastman House or The Hutchison.

About W.M. Hunt
W.M. Hunt is a champion of photography — a collector, curator, consultant, writer, teacher, and fundraiser who lives and works in New York City. He was a founding partner of the prominent
photography gallery HASTED HUNT in Chelsea, Manhattan and served as director of     photography at Ricco/Maresca gallery. His upcoming book The Unseen Eye: Photographs from the Unconscious (Aperture) focuses on Collection Dancing Bear, currently his largest collection of photographs.

He and his collecting have been featured in The New York Times and The Art Newspaper as well as on PBS and YouTube. He is a professor at the School of Visual Arts and on the Board of Directors of the W. Eugene Smith Memorial Fund and The Center for Photography at Woodstock, N.Y., where he was the recipient of their Vision Award in 2009. He also served on the Board of Directors of AIPAD (Association of International Photography Art Dealers) and as chairman of Photographers + Friends United Against AIDS.

At Ricco/Maresca gallery and HASTED HUNT, he debuted and represented artists already noted in this release as well as W.A. “Snowflake” Bentley, Julian Faulhauber, Andreas Gefeller, Jean-Paul Goude, Lisette Model, James Mollison, Eugene Richards, Martin Schoeller, Alex Webb, and photo agency VII.

About the book
The Unseen Eye: Photographs from the Unconscious (Aperture, $75) will be released in October. The book is 320 pages and includes 370 photographs.

The publisher wrote, “Hunt’s instinctive pursuit of striking images has resulted in a collection that manages to evoke a picture of humanity from birth to death, with all the associated nuances of memory, wit, eroticism, fear, grief, and horror … intensely evocative and frequently surreal images are brilliantly sequenced in this volume — the cumulative effect is unnerving and riveting.”

The book’s images are drawn together with a narrative by the collector himself, as a highly personal monologue that weaves through the book. The end result is a series of epiphanies about how and why one collects. The book’s introduction is written by William A. Ewing, former director of the Musée de l’Elysée in Lausanne, who has curated a number of international exhibitions on the themes of the body and the face.

Hunt will present a multimedia performance piece, The Unseen Eye: A Life in Photographs and Other Digressions at Aperture in New York City on Oct. 28, and later at Paris Photo and in London in November.

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