An Eye for Images: Donors Grow Museum’s Photo Collection


It’s often said that art collectors have “a good eye” for pictures, but what does that really mean?

Ways of Seeing: Four Photography Collections, on view through June 16 at the New Mexico Museum of Art’s Plaza Building, attempts an answer. An exhibition of 40 photographs from three recently donated collections, and one promised gift, Ways of Seeing highlights new and never-before-seen images that illustrate a variety of approaches to choosing and assembling a photography collection.

Ways of Seeing is an interesting study of taste and the profound reasons why collectors select objects for their personal collections,” says Mark A. White, the museum’s executive director. “The exhibition is an important reminder of how collectors have shaped and grown the photography collection of the New Mexico Museum of Art.”

Curator of photography Katherine Ware, who describes collecting as a “fascinating human impulse,” adds, “I love seeing collectors’ interests and passions reflected in what they buy and choose to live with. When each collector approached us, we assessed how their unique vision would complement the museum’s mission and holdings.”

A case in point is photographer and photo dealer Don Moritz, who collected primarily black-and-white prints, including a group by El Rito photographer David Michael Kennedy. After meeting the artist in the early 1990s when taking a class at the Santa Fe Workshops, Moritz becoming one of the artist’s major collectors. In 2022, Moritz donated Kennedy’s portfolio of cloud studies and
four additional photographs, all on view amid other museum classics.

“Kennedy’s nuanced prints join in conversation with other cherished cloud photographs in the museum’s collection, including Alfred Stieglitz’s innovative Equivalents, Paul Caponigro’s poignant Rancho San Sebastian and Eliot Porter’s color images of the sky over Tesuque, New Mexico,” says Ware.

Another collector and museum contributor, New Yorker W.M. Hunt, was attracted to “magical, heart-stopping images” of people whose eyes are obscured. Hunt has no clear sense of how his passion for this theme developed, but he says that assembling the photographs “changed my life; it gave me one.” Eight photographs from Hunt’s donation are on view in Ways of Seeing, with works by artists Adam Fuss, Debbie Fleming Caffery, Inge Morath and Saul Steinberg, Ruth Thorne-Thomsen, Arthur Tress, Gerald Slota, Minor White and Joel-Peter Witkin.

Painter Jamie Brunson donated seven photographs from a collection she assembled with her former husband, art historian and teacher Mark Levy, while living in Berkeley, California. They were drawn to large-scale, contemporary photographs from the 1980s through 2000, particularly works that explored the impact of human presence on the landscape. The couple’s shared love of travel and dedication to Kundalini meditation is also reflected in some of their selections. Brunson, who currently lives in Santa Fe, made her donation after Levy’s recent death. Among their donated works on view are images by Jeff Brouws, Kevin Bubriski, John Pfahl and Richard Misrach.

"These came to us at a pivotal
moment for the museum’s
photography collection, which
ranges from international to
local artists."

Santa Fe collectors Caroline Burnett and her late husband William chose images that moved them deeply, ultimately creating a collection largely of mid-20th-century modernist photographs described by Caroline as works that “represent the beauty, grace and wonder of nature, and offer a sense of peace and serenity.”

It began in 1992 when, as a reminder of their hike to the summit of Cerro Pedernal, Bill gave Caroline a print of Arnold Newman’s photograph of Georgia O’Keeffe at Ghost Ranch. After moving to Santa Fe in 2001, the couple continued collecting, purchasing photographs to celebrate birthdays and holidays.

In the years since Bill’s death, Caroline has continued to refine and develop the collection, which is now designated as a future donation to the museum. A few of the gems on loan for this exhibition are by Ruth Bernhard, Manuel Álvarez Bravo, Alfred Stieglitz, Gertrude Käsebier and Santa Fe photographer Tony O’Brien.

Of these four collections, Ware says, “These came to us at a pivotal moment for the museum’s photography collection, which ranges from international to local artists. We are now looking to add some key pieces to really elevate this strong holding.”

Two gallery talks are scheduled and are free for museum members. On Saturday, March 16, from 11 a.m. to noon, Jamie Brunson, Caroline Burnett and W.M. Hunt share insights about their collections in "My Life as a Collector." On Wednesday, April 10, from 11 a.m. to noon, Anne Kelly, director of Santa Fe’s photo-eye gallery, will talk about beginning your own photography collection.

This article and image are from the Museum of New Mexico Foundation’s Member News Magazine.