Current art history Ph.D. student Christopher Jones has been named the Outstanding New Professional for 2013 by the Florida Association of Museums (FAM). Jones was nominated by his colleagues at the Ringling Museum of Art in Sarasota, Florida, and considers it an amazing honor.
“I came to the museum in the summer of 2012 as a curatorial fellow with a one-year appointment,” says Jones. “I was tasked with researching a recent gift of over 1,400 photographs to the Ringling’s permanent collection by Warren J. and Margot Coville, and developing a new program of exhibitions that would highlight the museum’s expanding photography collection.”
Jones describes the photographs donated by the Covilles as “stunning.” He explains that so many important examples of 20th century documentary photography and early modernism are represented and that the museum’s holdings have been enriched exponentially.
“Interestingly, the first photography show I curated at the Ringling, Witness to War, drew from a group of photographs that Warren Coville himself had taken while serving as an aerial photographer on board bombers during WWII,” says Jones. “These raw, breathtaking images documented aerial combat, bombing raids and reconnaissance, but there were also more informal scenes, snapshots and portraits that were meant as personal or informal documents.
“The exhibition presented both official imagery that one would find circulated in the press, alongside candid, unofficial, souvenir photos, and even the more functional images of war not meant for public circulation. [This was a] unique perspective on the experience of war, based on a personal, firsthand account. It was also a really fascinating look at the variety of functions that photography served during the war, and all of the respective visual languages and modes of circulation that those functions generated.”
Working on Witness to War enabled Jones to partner with colleagues at Florida State University (FSU) on research and loans, and the Museum of Fine Arts at FSU will be presenting the show in February 2015. They were also fortunate to receive a grant from The Patterson Foundation, and collaborated with them on their Legacy of Valor Campaign as part of their programming and publicity surrounding the show.
“There was a lot of enthusiasm for the show among our community and local media, and the exhibition was well attended,” Jones says. “It was the first opportunity I’ve had to represent the museum on local TV and radio. [It was] fun, but incredibly stressful stuff! The FAM award was in recognition of conceiving Witness to War and bringing it all together successfully—all in about six months. It was a great experience for me, and I’m still humbled that my colleagues nominated me for the award.”
Since Witness to War, Jones has put together several more small exhibitions. Among his favorites are In the Streets: Photographing Urban Spaces and Unfamiliar Realities, a show that presented photographers who used their medium to transform the mundane into the unfamiliar. Both of these shows have come from the Ringling’s permanent collection.
“As we’ve been emphasizing our collection of photography here, we’ve also been connecting with many photography collectors and enthusiasts who are eager to participate in exhibitions and acquisitions. It’s really exciting to see our photography program grow, and career-wise, it’s been a dream come true for me.”