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LIGHT is billed as the opening of M.I.T.'s permanent collection of photographs, but don't let that fool you. These aren't the "classic" photographs by the "great" photographers that you would expect in a university collection. The exhibit doesn't try to provide a history of the development of photography, either. It's one person's idea of good photographs, some by well-known photographers, but most by people you've never heard of.
For an institution to depart from the standards of general critical opinion in forming a collection is a risky business. The success of the exhibit depends on the artistic and photographic judgment of the organizer of the show. M.I.T. took the risk, trusting in the photographic vision of their resident photo-genius, Minor White.
While White's choice of photographs may not satisfy everyone, he has constructed a unified exhibit of pictures that is effective on two different levels. On a purely visual level each photograph is a pleasing two-dimensional arrangement of lines and shapes, of tones and patterns. But nearly every picture in every exhibit has this quality. Many exhibits then go on to comment on some phase of human life, or of man's environment, or of nature. In such exhibits the photographers present their individual statements, which the viewer can then either accept, deny, or ignore.
The photographs in Light make no statements. They present situations into which the viewer must insert himself. In order for the photographs to succeed, the viewer has to work with them. He must allow himself to move into the world in the photographs, a world where his dream-memories and visions become the realities.
These photographs are not simple, though the visual elements are basic--a hillside, a bathtub, a mirror. The few people in these pictures are not really individuals. You've seen them all before, though you don't really remember where. They are people composed of emotions. They're a part of you, torn from you, turned into silver and pasted onto a piece of paper.
The title Light is supposed to symbolize seven different roles that light can play in a photograph. Each of these roles is described in notes that appear in the catalogue of the show. But don't bother reading the notes; they merely undercut the photographs. Go and see the photographs. They speak articulately for themselves.
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