Exhibit Review: “Photoworks: Presence of Place”
A touching photo tribute to an AU Alum
The “Photoworks: Presence of Place” exhibition in the Katzen Museum is in memory of Elsie Hull Sprague. Sprague, who died in 2014, was an artist who received a MA in Film from AU’s School of Communication.
Photoworks started forty years ago, when four young photographers with a passion for capturing the setting of everyday life came together. Still operating today, "Photoworks: Presence of Place" displays pieces from past and present members of the organization.
The exhibition is divided into a few different sections, notably: the Built Environment, Bodies and Exploration Abroad. Many artists featured in the exhibit used solely black and white filters. However, pieces like Rebecca Drobis’ “A School Bus Travels Montana” make lovely use of bright colors against muted backgrounds. Many of Drobis’ photographs manage to capture the attention of visitors and hold it captive. Her photograph entitled, “Johnny Spotted Eagle (age 8), Jaiceelyn Tatisana Angel Little Dog (age 4), Anthelia Wells (age 5)” is of three children on the Blackfeet Reservation in Montana. Something about the simple image of childhood with the contrasting image of a gun (toy or not) is captivating.
Sara Devore’s images stuck out in the exhibit for their grotesque and startling nature. The largest of her prints was of a dead rodent. Viewing the picture, it’s easy to wonder why Devore took the photo. To what purpose, if not to shock viewers, did she have for showcasing the photo? What entices an artist to take pictures of dead animals?
English-born photographer Mark Powers has photos featured in the Exploration Abroad Section. Like, Drobis’ “A School Bus Travels to Montana," his pieces play around with contrasting colors. My favorite was undoubtedly, “Napkin." In “Napkin," Powers successfully shows the beauty in everyday objects. His images seem to suggest that beauty can be held in anything - even napkins.
Selected pieces of Sprague’s work were chosen for the exhibit. Debatably her most impressive photo “Hydrotherapy, Alcatraz, 1989,” is a pleasant image of a turquoise clawfoot tub in a yellow room. However, the photos name points to its dark past. Her work challenges viewers to look past pretty ensembles and search for the truth, no matter how troubling.
Photoworks is an aesthetically pleasing exhibition that achieves its mission of representing the beauty of everyday life through photography. The exhibition has a startling mix of soothing landscape images and stark black and white pieces.