A City in Protest: Olive Pierce’s Cambridge City Hall Portraits, 1970-1972
Exhibition Location: L2 during Special Events and 2nd Floor of the Main Library
This exhibition includes black and white silver prints of Cambridge City Council meetings Pierce took 45 years ago, capturing clashes between politicians and the people. Pierce recently donated this series along with several other important works, spanning her 40-year career as a documentary photographer to the Cambridge Room, the Library’s Archives and Special Collections.
Pierce graduated from Vassar College in 1945. In 1948, she traveled as a secretary to a U.N. Medical Mission to Poland where she began taking pictures. The experience of photographing war-torn Warsaw and Auschwitz inspired Pierce’s interest in photography.
With Berenice Abbott and Paul Caponigro as her teachers, Pierce embarked on a professional career as a photographer. In 1965, she received a Bunting Fellowship from the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, and began to focus on documentary work with the city of Cambridge as her subject.
She spent the next decade as a freelance photographer, working for the Cambridge Chronicle, while embarking on two major documentary projects: photographing the turbulent Cambridge City Council meetings (1970-1972) and the children of the Jefferson Park Public Housing Project in North Cambridge (1973-1975).
In 1986, Pierce published No Easy Roses: A Look at the Lives of City Teenagers, featuring pictures she took during her tenure as a photography teacher at the Cambridge Rindge and Latin School. In 1991, Pierce received another Bunting Fellowship to work on Up River: The Story of a Maine Fishing Community (1996). Nine years later, 73 year-old Pierce traveled illegally to Iraq under the auspices of Voices in the Wilderness to photograph children. In 2001, she received the City of Cambridge’s Peace and Justice Award.
Pierce’s photographs are in the permanent collections of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, the Portland Museum of Art, the Addison Gallery of American Art, and the Farnsworth Art Museum.