A. Pierce Bounds ’71, Dickinson’s image-maker, draws shutter to a close
by Bill Sulon
December 8, 2010
During Homecoming & Family Weekend, college photographer A. Pierce Bounds '71 submits to a photo shoot at a book signing of Sirena, in which his photos are featured. Photo by John E. Jones '11.
When it comes to photography, A. Pierce Bounds ’71 prefers reality’s steam and sunlight to Photoshop’s smoke and mirrors.
Bounds, who is retiring at the end of the month after a 27-year career as Dickinson’s photographer, captured some of the college’s most iconic images, including—on Jan. 28, 2005, at 7:43 a.m.—shadows of Old West’s mermaid and cupola cast upon steam hanging in the still, frigid air. The steam plant that generated the puffy and fleeting aerial canvas has since been razed, but the surreal image, like thousands of others captured by Bounds, lives on in photographs affixed to Web sites, magazines, books, brochures, walls, calendars and memorabilia coffee cups.
Born in Philadelphia, Bounds earned a bachelor’s degree in fine arts from Dickinson, where he was a member of Alpha Psi Omega, the Mermaid Players theatre group and, as was common during the late 1960s and early ’70s, the anti-war movement.
In the late 1960s, Bounds and other students on campus spoke out against the war in Vietnam by holding peaceful protests on campus and attending national rallies in Washington, D.C. Bounds occasionally drove his classmates to the rallies in his 1965 blue-and-white Dodge van adorned with painted doves. After May 4, 1970, the tenor of the protests changed.
“Protests before Kent State were not fun, but they weren’t as serious,” Bounds says. “After Kent State, people were upset.” At Dickinson, students and some professors, outraged by the killing of four Kent State University students and wounding of nine others by Ohio National Guardsmen, channeled their anger into more pointed demonstrations. They blocked the entrance to Denny Hall, which at the time housed the ROTC, and marched to the nearby U.S. Army War College.
“The Vietnam War was on everybody’s minds at all times,” Bounds says. In one of his photos from the era, a student is shown hanging out a window at Denny Hall, holding a poster that reads, “Don’t let your sons die in Nixon’s war.”
After graduation, Bounds moved to Montpelier, Vt., where he was a volunteer firefighter and worked as manager at the Haybarn Theatre at Goddard College in nearby Plainfield. While in Montpelier, he shared an apartment with Jim Drake ’70 (who retired in June as designer and technical director for the theatre & dance department at Dickinson) and a Goddard English professor named David Mamet. They worked with then-Goddard student and fledgling actor William H. Macy, who lived with his girlfriend in an apartment below.
Mamet—long before earning fame as an author, screenwriter, director and Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright—frequently enjoyed the idyllic wintry setting in Vermont with his roommates, smoking a brandy-soaked cigar and drinking his favorite beverage.
“We would sit there drinking dark Heinekens while looking out the window at the snow falling,” the flakes illuminated by the orange glow from the Gulf station across Main Street, Bounds remembers.
Bounds also would observe and hear Mamet in his room, tapping out drafts of The Duck Variations and Sexual Perversity in Chicago on an Olympia typewriter. While Mamet typed, Bounds and Drake, also a firefighter, spent their spare time with their own hobby, building plastic models of trucks.
“Of unending amusement to Mamet was that both Bounds and Drake were members of the Goddard College Volunteer Fire Department and had a red phone installed in their apartment to respond to the occasional call,” Ira Bruce Nadel wrote in his 2007 book, David Mamet: A Life in the Theatre. “The college had a 2,000 gallon ex-Navy Pumper truck but it required instruction before any volunteer could drive it. With no power steering or power brakes, it was a challenge. Pierce Bounds gained proficiency through an instructor so intriguing that they began to date and eventually married.”
Bounds began a freelance career in photography in Washington, D.C., in the mid 1970s, and then moved back to Carlisle in 1980. In 1983, he took over as Dickinson’s freelance photographer, a position he held until 1999, when he was hired as a full-time employee.
Bounds’ work has been featured in The American Firehouse: An Architectural and Social History (1983), the Historic American Engineering Record and Historic American Buildings Survey (housed in the Library of Congress) and, most recently, the 2010-12 Sirena, an international, multilingual journal of poetry, art and criticism edited by Dickinson faculty.
Throughout his career, Bounds developed a fondness for photographing dance. His ethereal images of Dance Theatre Group (DTG) rehearsals adorn covers of the Calendar of Arts.
“It’s beautiful, and I can be creative,” Bounds says of the DTG sessions.
There’s no hesitation when asked about less pleasurable assignments. “Anything in the Stern Center Great Room,” he says. “Poor lighting. It’s awful.”
Bounds photographed all phases of construction of Dickinson’s modern visual marvel, the Rector Science Complex—including the installation of the final steel beam on Aug. 12, 2007—and he has captured hundreds of images of the college’s more traditional and famous symbols, the Adirondack chairs.
“The red chairs have been wonderful for me,” Bounds says.
Happy trails ...
Bounds’ retirement plans are in keeping with his hectic work schedule. He plans to spend more time in Texas with his wife and fire truck-driving instructor, Donna Williams ’74, who transferred from Goddard to Dickinson to complete her degree in American studies. Williams, who married Bounds in 1975, is director of historic sites for the Texas Historical Commission. They have two daughters—Margaret, the coordinator for environmental sustainability at the University of South Carolina, and Juli, a junior at the University of Pittsburgh.
In addition to traveling, Bounds plans to upgrade his house and left leg. The house, on Walnut Street in Carlisle, will get some fresh paint. The leg will get a new knee, replacing one damaged by age, arthritis and surgery.
“I’ll fix up my house and then fix my body,” Bounds says.
And he’ll continue to take lots of pictures.
View some of Bounds’ favorite photos from his 27-year career at Dickinson or read about his 2009 reunion exhibit.