Journalism Faculty's Photos, Research Featured at Museum

Posted on: January 28, 2014

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School of Journalism Associate Professor Darcy Greene first discovered French photographer Pierre Verger's work while serving in the Peace Corps (1969-1971) in Benin, West Africa. It was then she found a copy of his 1954 publication, "Dieux D'Afrique" (Gods of Africa).

"I was captivated by its contents. I had seen a number of the activities it depicted in the village where I lived and worked," Greene said. "In the years since my return home, I often wondered how Verger's compelling photographs would compare to those taken today."

Forty years later, Greene traveled back to Benin, West Africa, to some of the same places as Verger to capture her own images that are similar, or somewhat related, to those taken by the French photojournalist.

This photographic comparison of Verger's historical black and white photos paired with the contemporary color photos taken by Greene document life and traditions in Benin, West Africa, and will be on display Feb. 2-April 27 at the MSU Museum.

The exhibit, "Revisiting Verger's Dahomey: A Photographic Contrast," opens Sunday, Feb. 2, with an opening reception from 2 to 4 p.m. and gallery talk by Greene at 3 p.m.

Verger, who passed away in 1996, immersed himself in the lives, customs and beliefs of the people of Dahomey (now Benin) West Africa. The MSU Museum exhibit pairs 16 of his photos, many taken in the town of Abomey in the 1950s, with 17 of Greene's photos taken in 2012 in many of the same locations.

"The exhibit is a reflection of my long-held interest in using photography to examine what has changed and what has remained the same in people's lives and environments over time," Greene said.

Greene-Darcy-CASNews2The exhibit was made possible with support from an MSU Humanities and Arts Research Program (HARP) Development Grant, which allowed Greene to travel to Salvador, Brazil, where Verger's archive is located, in March 2012 to review more than 1,000 of his photos. She then traveled to Abomey, West Africa, in May and June 2012 to re-photograph the places, family members and events found in Verger's photos.

In addition to the photo comparisons, the MSU Museum exhibit includes seven portraits taken by Greene in Abomey as well as objects depicted in Greene's images that she brought back from West Africa. These objects include a ceremonial ax and alter, tapestries, clay pots, cowrie shells, and the actual book by Verger that served as the inspiration for the exhibit.

"Revisiting Verger's Dahomey: A Photographic Contrast" was curated by Howard Bossen, professor of photography and visual communication in the School of Journalism and adjunct curator of photography at the MSU Museum.

Four CAS students in the University Undergraduate Research program (UURAF) helped with the project by doing research, writing captions and designing materials. Julia Grippe and Danielle Turcotte assisted in 2012-2013 and Elizabeth Izzo and Dylan Sowle assisted in 2013-2014.

The MSU Museum, 409 W. Circle Drive (next to Beaumont Tower), is open Monday-Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; and Sunday from 1 to 5 p.m. Admission is by donation. For more information, see the MSU Museum website.

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