Where There Is 'Hope'

Where There Is 'Hope'

Arrival of exhibition at McMullen Museum a case of perfect timing

By Sean Smith
Chronicle Editor

The Boston College McMullen Museum of Art had arranged months ago for the exhibition to begin on Sept. 30, confident it would be another solid entry to the roster of highly acclaimed shows hosted by the museum.

But no one could have anticipated how serendipitous the scheduling of "Hope Photographs" would turn out to be.

Chris Hawkins '04 and Boston area resident Dianne Farley browse the "Hope Photographs" collection at the McMullen Museum last week. Organizers say the exhibition, planned months in advance, has taken on a new significance in light of this fall's tragic events. (Photo By Lee Pelligrini)
At a time of terrorist attacks and bioterrorism threats at home and military action abroad, the inspiring themes embodied by "Hope Photographs" resonate in ways the BC exhibition planners never imagined. Organizers say the nearly 110 photographs, meant to capture and convey the essence of hope, have clearly struck a chord with museum visitors - some of whom assumed the exhibition was a response to the Sept. 11 disasters.

"In light of the tragic events of Sept. 11, this exhibition takes on added meaning," said Museum Director Nancy Netzer recently. "It allows us to look around us and see positive things we might overlook otherwise, especially when we might be feeling at our most hopeless."

The McMullen is the last stop on a national tour for the traveling exhibition, which includes works by more than 90 contemporary photographers, including Harry Callahan, Cindy Sherman, Lee Friedlander and Joel Meyerowitz. The photographs represent a range of styles and approaches: portrait, candid, still life, photojournalistic, surrealistic and more.

On one day last week, Timothy Hoover '03 browsed the museum's upper gallery and declared himself already impressed, although he had seen perhaps a third of the exhibition. He noted that the photograph nearest the museum entrance is of a firefighter, a heroic symbol of the Sept. 11 aftermath.

"That struck me right off," said Hoover, a regular visitor to the museum exhibitions. "I didn't know whether the exhibit was put together before Sept. 11, but to have that photo be the first one you see when you come in the door works perfectly."

Perusing the lower gallery, Sudbury resident Veronica McCarthy jotted down some thoughts in preparation for her stint as a volunteer docent for the museum. She lingered over a selection of photographs that to her suggested a linkage of hope and social justice themes: a homeless man reading a book by a dumpster; a man setting up an open-air cafe in a bombed-out Chechnyan city; an Alabama civil rights march; a tailor in an African refugee camp.

"These really touch me," said McCarthy. "I don't know much about the technical side of photography, but what these photos show can be so powerful."

Organizers have augmented the offerings by displaying in the adjacent hallway a selection of photographs depicting the University's Sept. 11 prayer service and the Sept. 16 Mass of the Holy Spirit, which was focused this year on attack victims and their families. Office of Marketing and Communications Photographer Lee Pellegrini took several of the pictures, many of which ran in the Sept. 20 Chronicle.

Also supplementing the exhibition, along with a series of lectures, seminars and other special events, is a collection of short essays penned by BC administrators and faculty in response to the question, "Where do you find hope?" Although written well in advance of Sept. 11, organizers say the essays have an added poignancy and significance given this fall's events.

Netzer cited an excerpt from Prof. Paul Davidovits (Chemistry), reflecting on the first day of a class: "The new generation's consent to enter the world I inhabit with all of its difficulty and complexity, is for me a source of wonder and hope." Another contribution came from Assoc. Prof. John McDargh (Theology), who described hope as "grounded in those precious, particular images we live by, images of those who stand in the darkness of apparent defeat and loss, and yet still remain open to an unimaginable but affirmed future."

Some English Department faculty assigned students to do essays on "Hope Photographs" as an exercise in their writing classes. Part-time faculty member Treseanne Ainsworth said many of her students used the assignment as an outlet to articulate their feelings about the Sept. 11 attacks.

"It gave them something tangible they could use to talk about the tragedy, in a way they couldn't before in class," said Ainsworth, who was "moved to tears" by many of her students' essays. "I love the collection myself, but I love it even more because of what it's done for the students."

Museum visitors have offered their own thoughts on the exhibition and what it represents in the nondescript stenographer's notebook near the entrance:

"...To me, hope is the fuel that allows us to move forward. It may be born from despair and hardship, but hope allows us to be immortal."

"...In the world of today, it is nice to see moments in time (that have been forever captured) that can make one look towards a better future."

"[The exhibition] should be cherished by all because it touches all aspects of life, even those that many don't want to touch."

Other comments are simple and straightforward, such as "Turned my day around"; another, contributed by "Grad Student," read simply "Thank you."

[More information on the exhibition and related events is available on-line.]

-Rosanne Pellegrini contributed to this story.


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