350 Student Photography Exhibition
EB Bartels & Eleri Roberts
Sculpture Court, Jewett Arts Center, 3rd Floor
Opening Reception: Tuesday, May 11, 4:45-6pm
Exhibit Dates: May 10-29, 2010
Taking photographs can draw a lot of attention, especially when you are using a 4×5 view camera. Hunched under a black cloth, trying to remember all of the steps to focusing the image and setting up the shot, people would ask us what we were taking pictures of and what our projects were and why we were doing them. The simplest answer? It’s personal.
We’ve both spent this past spring semester – our last semester at Wellesley – reflecting a lot on our time here, figuring out what we value the most, thinking about what we will miss, panicking about our futures. Talking about graduation while working together in the darkroom, discussing job interviews in the media lab while scanning negatives – all these deeply personal fears, anxieties, hopes, dreams, what have you, have infiltrated our work more than we can even see. -Eleri Roberts & EB Bartels
Senior year is all about making memories. It’s all about documenting the last months of the “best years of your life,” solidifying those lifelong friendships, and accumulating a sense of nostalgia. Especially spring semester, photos begin to be thought of in the context of showing kids and grandkids one day or in future wedding slideshows or at reunions five, ten, twenty years from now.
I set out to document the nine women in the class of 2010 who I have been the closest to during my four years of college. In a way it was less about documenting their elaborate, hilarious, eccentric personalities, but collecting them in a mug shot like series, a flash of recording what they looked like and who they were at this point in time. It was a means to make a catalogue, for the day when someone asks, “Who were you friends with in college?”
But more than that, I wanted to document this sort of weird, prematurely nostalgic point in our lives. So many emails, so many advertisements, about things like keepsake graduation invitations or college rings – planning to make memories before actually making them. That is why I wanted to take pictures of these nine women in graduation attire long before any of us had walked on a stage and gotten a diploma, and why I also worked to make my black and white images prematurely distressed. With everyone so busy all the time, rushing around, trying to fit everything in, there is no time to wait for photographs to get old and weather naturally – you have to plan ahead to look back.
I wanted to document the vaguely uncomfortable intensity that comes with this last semester of school, the awkward anxiety that stemmed from our discussions about what we were doing next year while I fiddled around and focused the 4×5 view camera. When one of my subjects, Cary, put on the tam and gown and caught her reflection in the studio space, she said, “Whoa. Shit just got real.”
For me, taking pictures is very personal. It is an inward experience and it becomes very much about the entire process of creating a composition. With the heavy large format camera, it can be a strenuous trek to find locations around campus that I can connect with. I seek moments that I can compose and share with nature and my environment. As I take on shapes and forms in front of the camera, I become very aware of my figure and how it relates to my surroundings. I believe that the physicality of the sculptural form I take on within the portrait is exaggerated by the preceding physicality of the search for an ideal site.
At first it was important to me that any signs of civilization were excluded from the frame. I wanted the images to be about the natural environment at Wellesley, but as I continued, the exclusion of Wellesley’s human traces became less important and I began to focus more on my imitation of the surroundings. The idea of photographing on Wellesley campus, however, remained important. I think that a central aspect of my work this semester has been about representing camouflage and assimilation while still retaining presence. I may blend with my environment, but I am still here. About finding my place within my environment as well as documenting my impression here at Wellesley while I remain a student.
Lastly, humor plays a key role in this project. I want viewers to laugh, stop, realize what they are looking at, and then to question. A “Wait…what?” type of reaction. Perhaps the laugh comes from surprise, uncertainty or simply amusement. Whatever the case may be I will admit that it is certainly peculiar to be imitating a topiary bush. However, absurdity aside, I hope that a strange beauty can be found in my self-portraits. I want my work to provoke questions and yet remain light-hearted and amusing on some level. As we have deemed my project, using the words of William Wegman, during countless independent study meetings, my project is “funny, strange” and not “funny haha”.