Label Writing…It ain’t no joke = Part 1

My latest project is to research and write about seven works of art by photographer  Pete Turner.

Who is Pete Turner?

Turner is a New York native and graduate of RIT, his early interest in chemistry led him to photography, specifically color photography, which is his major claim to fame.  In addition to being a master of  color photography, Turner has been described as ” as much a part of the music’s evolution and the jazz culture as the musicians themselves.” via 

Pete in his studio by George Jardine

Okay, but what is this “project”?

Let me back up a little bit.

I  was assigned this project approximately seven hours ago, although I’ve known it was coming for awhile. I really want to document this particular project because after all, the reason that I created this blog was to keep a record of all that I learn throughout my fellowship. At only 1 year in, I am still a museum newbie and will hopefully look back on this as an experience  filled with learning and expanding my horizons to new territory, which in this case is museum label writing.

Here I am reading the labels for Jill Mathis’ photographs that are currently hanging in the space where Pete Turner’s photos will go.

In addition to the museum, there are 2 small gallery spaces on campus with artwork from the museum that changes periodically. This is where Pete Turner’s photos and the labels that I write for them (this is the heart of the “project”) will be located. Currently hanging in the space are black and white photos by Jill Mathis. I highly suggest scoping out her work because it is lovely. Just click  here.  Below is DELIRIUM, one of my favorites:

“DELIRIUM In Latin lera means the ridge left by ploughing. The verb de-lerare means to make an irregular ridge when ploughing. A delirius was one who couldn’t make a straight farrow when ploughing and thus came to mean a crazy or disoriented person.” – From artist’s website.

Step One: Selection

Today the museum’s Director and I carefully opened and looked through several portfolios of photographs which are stored in our archives area.  The museum’s collection consists mostly of works on paper and all items are catalogued, organized, and stored on sliding shelves, basically like a library. Our goal was to select new works to swap out with the Mathis’ photos so that the gallery space can be lookin’ fresh for the new year and so that I can try my hand at writing exhibition labels! As we went through the photos, the Director made a point to show me some photos that wouldn’t  work well for the space.

For example, we wouldn’t show Robert Mapplethorp‘s controversial nude (photos of naked people)  in his particular gallery because the general response from all who see it would be something along the lines of “Ew”.

After looking at a few possible options together, we selected Pete Turner’s photos for me to have the unique opportunity to write museum labels for!

What is a museum label and why is it important?

Okay real talk for a second, y’all.

I feel like I’m well versed in art, but I’m not going to sit here and lie. There are plenty of times when I walk into a museum and have NO idea what is going on in a painting that i’m looking at, why it’s significant enough to be in a museum, or why I should care that it exist much less be interested in it. I’ve been on museum tours where the docent learns that I have an art background and puts me on the spot during the tour.

I wish I could hit “pause”, go read the labels, and come back. Taking a moment to scope out the labels next to these paintings really help me understand what I’m seeing.

In nutshell, the museum label “interprets” the work of art for you. That’s actually a fancy art museum term that means …exactly what it means. An “interpreter” translates one language into another so that you can better understand the message, so to “interpret” in a museum is to explain the history, concept, and other important details of an object to whomever is interacting with it in understandable non-pretentious sounding “real people terms” as I call them.  Labels usually define those pretentious sounding art words and give information about artistic techniques or cultural context to help you better understand the work.

There are entire fields of study dedicated to “exhibition design” (did I know that before working at this museum? NOPE!) and writing labels is a true art in itself. Y’all think I’m playin?

Step Two: Research

Since I now know who/what I’m writing about, the next task on the agenda is to research, research, research. Here are most interesting things that  I discovered about Pete Turner today from spending a few hours researching.

Earlier, I mentioned Turner’s significance in the evolution of jazz music. Turner  has photographed many musicians throughout his career, including Ray Charles, John Coltrane, Wes Montgomery, and Dizzy Gillespie.  His amazing photographs have graced the covers of over 100 jazz albums through the years.

I absolutely love connecting visual art and music and this is one of those awesome moments where they overlap (read an earlier post that I wrote about art and music here).

 I’ll leave you with a multimedia sampler: 3  album covers that feature Pete Turner’s photos accompanied by a song from each album for your listening pleasure:

(feel free to turn up the volume and dance, I won’t judge!)

Listen to it here:

Album: Dedicated To You
Artist: Ray Charles/Betty Carter (1959)
Label: ABC Paramount

Listen to it here:

Here is one of the seven images that I get to write about!

Album: Montreux II*
Artist: Bill Evans
Label: CTI
Photo: Boat Wake (Norway, 1966)

Boat Wake, 1996
Artist: Pete Turner, 1934-
Epson inkjet print, 1996
Portfolio: Selected Color Images

Listen to it here:


Here’s a sneak peek of one of the images!

Ibiza Woman, 1961
Artist: Pete Turner, 1934-
Epson inkjet print, 1961
Portfolio: Selected Color Images

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s