Truth and beauty in black and white

The award-winning photographer Dorothy Kerper Monnelly ’58 has been called the “Ansel Adams of the wetlands.” Like Adams before her, Monnelly works in black and white and uses a large-format camera to illuminate the majesty of the natural world. Beginning this June, Monnelly will exhibit her work alongside Adams’s in “Fragile Waters,” a traveling exhibition conceived in response to the 2010 BP oil spill.

For more than 35 years, Monnelly has been enthralled by the salt marsh landscape of Boston’s North Shore, and she conveys its ever-changing beauty through her photographs. It was Monnelly’s agent, Barbara Cox, who conceived of the idea of a photography exhibition as a response to the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

“Fragile Waters,” which will also feature work by the renowned underwater photographer Ernest H. Brooks II, is meant to be “a positive and inspiring reminder of the significance of clean water,” Monnelly says. “All of the photographers in the show are lifelong activists for the marine environment, and we all share the love of black-and-white photography and its pure imagery. Our hope is that the photographs will stimulate thoughtful response. We want to draw attention to the clean-water issue on a domestic and global level.”

At Wheaton, Monnelly studied philosophy, and that experience still shapes her. “When we photograph, we bring our whole self to the process,” she says, “and the inspiration for my photography has a strong connection with my focus on philosophy and the search for truth as a young student at Wheaton. I was excited by the great philosophers—Aristotle, Kierkegaard—and transfixed by the ideas of truth and beauty, concepts that would later become the bedrock of my photography.”

The exhibition will open in June at the Mariners’ Museum in Newport News, Va., then travel to museums in the U.S. and abroad through early 2015.

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