Putnam County Through the Lens

Putnam County Through the Lens

March 22, 2011

Caroline E. Murphy ’11 always envisioned herself working in a museum one day. However, she never expected the opportunity would present itself while she was still an undergraduate student. Murphy now not only works part-time as associate director at the Putnam County Museum, but also designed, curated and recently opened a second exhibit in less than one year.

(Pictured above from left to right is DePauw President Brian W. Casey, Director of DePauw Libraries and Museum Board President Rick Provine, Emily Knuth, Caroline Murphy, and Museum Executive Director Tanis Monday.)

Clearly mastering the art of time management, in addition to all of the above, Murphy will have successfully completed dual degrees this spring – a Bachelor of Music in vocal performance and a Bachelor of Arts in art history. She works 15 hours a week at the museum and takes as many classes as she can – sometimes auditing a few. 92476

Murphy explains that her job at the museum is a release from her coursework. “It’s allowed me to be very creative, and I’ve had a lot of fun with the exhibits. The museum staff has been wonderfully supportive of me and my projects,” Murphy says.

Her most recent exhibit, Putnam County Through the Lens, is a community-based art project. “The purpose of the project is to create art through community and community through art,” Murphy explains. Her inspiration came from an article she read in The New York Times Museum Special Section, which was an assignment for her class, Internship in Public History, taught by Professor of History John T. Schlotterbeck.

The article, “Teenage Girls Explore Their Lives Through a Camera’s Eye,” describes a New York City community-based art project. The article states, “… a dozen teenage girls with no formal photography experience were given professional cameras and told to document their world growing up in New York City. Right away, the results were startling.” To read the entire article, click here.

“The girls examined their lives through photography, and the images they took were deep and emotional,” Murphy says. “The results were very moving. That project spurred me to think – what would happen if we gave cameras to Putnam County community members and asked them to photograph their lives? It made me think – what would I photograph? That’s how the idea for the project started.”92475

It became her Honor Scholar senior thesis project. Her thesis adviser, Associate Professor of Art Anne F. Harris, says, “Caroline brought stamina and conviction to the Putnam County Through the Lens project. She created a space and a project by which people can learn about Putnam County through the expression that the participants gave their experiences. It’s a fundamentally humanist project – celebrating the creative spirit within a communal framework,”

Last fall Murphy advertised for participants by distributing applications throughout the community, including schools, churches and businesses. The only requirement to apply was to be a Putnam County resident. “I chose seven participants who wrote applications specifically about hoping to create community through their photography,” Murphy says.

They ranged in age from 13-60 years and half were men and half women. “I deliberately chose various ages to get different perspectives. The group included a middle school and high school student, several professionals who work in Greencastle and a DePauw student. I tried to make it as diverse as I could.
“I gave them each a digital camera and asked them to photograph whatever interested them about their community. During seven weeks, they took hundreds of photos. Some focused on family, architecture, days gone by, the re-appropriation of buildings or scenery.

“They had very different ways of looking at the area, and their images really changed over the course of the seven weeks,” Murphy says. “Most of them had basic knowledge of photography, but they learned from each other. They also taught each other about the history of the area. We met five times to discuss the photos, and by the end, everyone had a style of his or her own.”

Most of the Putnam County Through the Lens exhibit consists of images taken by the participants. However, the exhibit also has two other smaller features.

One is a community photo album. Last fall during ArtsFest 2010 at DePauw, Murphy placed 30 disposable cameras around town. “They were marked as public art cameras, and anybody could take a picture. Those images have been compiled in a scrapbook, giving you this notion of the familiarity of looking through a family album, but it’s a community album,” Murphy says.

The other smaller feature in the exhibit is a Polaroid camera. “You’re asked to take a self-portrait and add yourself to it the exhibit wall. So, when you leave the museum, the community that the exhibit creates is one larger than when you entered.”92470

Murphy had to raise money to buy the cameras and for printing costs. In addition, funds were used to build moveable walls in the museum to create necessary gallery space. She’s thankful for a Community Donation Grant from Wal-Mart and for money from the Bonner Scholar Community Foundation Fund.

Murphy donated the cameras to the museum and says that they will be used again next year. “Putnam County Through the Lens will become an annual event. The participants have asked to take over the project for 2011-12,” Murphy says.

“I’m really excited about the project. I did spend some time in the library working on it, but it was much more of an interactive experience. So much of what I learned has been from the participants and how they view the community. They really grew as a group and ended up creating their own community through the project.

“My hope is that visitors to the museum will become excited about the exhibit, and then be inspired to go and explore more of their own community,” Murphy says.

Putnam County Through the Lens is open now through June at the Putnam County Museum. For more information, please visit their website by clicking here or by calling 765-653-8419.