Using the power of the image to generate discussion and open minds to new ideas…
This October, Peoria will welcome the Midwest Society for Photographic Education (MWSPE) annual conference. For the first time in the organization’s history, the Whiskey City will host the event, which will include sessions on photographic methods, processes and thematic trends. The title and theme of the conference, Developing Spaces/Place, brings together photographers and photo enthusiasts who appreciate the power of the photographic image to document and promote discussion of issues including environmental concerns, border demarcations and spatial justice.
The conference will open with a keynote address by Penelope Umbrico, a Guggenheim award winner best known for large installation works that cull images from search engines and online photography hosting sites. Her work examines the role of the photographer, the implications of the photographic record, and the iconic role of nature in photography.
In her Sunset Portraits installation, Umbrico presents thousands of photographs of sunsets taken from the online photography site Flickr. In her juxtaposition of these similar photographs, she comments on the technology of photography and the ways in which people utilize photographs to document significant moments.
By capturing a portrait at sunset, one that serves as evidence of “being there,” the photographer utilizes the indexical nature of the medium. However, when a mass of similar images is displayed together, as in one of Umbrico’s installations, the evidence becomes clear that the technology often spites the photographer’s original goal. The camera, presumably set on automatic during the exposure, compensates for the light of the sun rather than the faces, creating dark silhouettes of the figures. Due to this technological mishap, the recorded image—though special to the original photographer as a memento of a singular moment—becomes an image of anyone and everyone, connecting us through the millions of similar images of lovers, friends and family found in the installation.
In TVs from Craigslist, Umbrico again asks us to consider the act of photographing and the ways in which even banal images—like those created to sell used televisions on Craigslist—inadvertently capture the personal, often intimate spaces of the sellers. These images, which reflect back the sellers and their personal spaces in the dark television screens, create a space for voyeurism and curiosity when presented together as a single installation. Through Umbrico’s appropriation of these images, the authors of the photographs unintentionally become the subject. (These two installations will be on display at the Peoria Riverfront Museum September 30, 2017 – January 6, 2018.)
Adjacent Views of Space
On Friday evening, Wendel White, the 2017 Bunn Lecturer in Photography at Bradley University, will give a talk addressing several of his photographic projects that will be on display in the Heuser Art Center in conjunction with the conference. White’s photograph-based project, Red Summer, merges landscape photographs and contemporary newspaper clippings to reframe issues of race conflicts and spatial justice in U.S. history. Documenting sites of racial violence between 1917 and 1923, these works encourage the audience to consider both the history and contemporary nature of race relations in America.
Chicago, IL (2016) from Wendel White’s Red Summer series, juxtaposing landscape photographs and news clippings
In his series Schools for the Colored, White photographs existing structures and sites that once functioned as segregated schools. “Colored” schools from New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana and Illinois are visualized to document a fragment of the history of educational apartheid.
Photographer Dana Fritz, known for her work documenting human interaction with the landscape, will also speak at the conference, in addition to exhibiting works at the Peoria Public Library. In her series Views Removed, Fritz constructs landscapes that question traditional notions of Eastern and Western pictorial space. These delicately collaged, traditional darkroom prints piece together trees, stones and other natural objects through the printing of select portions of multiple negatives. The compositions are quiet, often utilizing large, flat spaces of paper white within the image. This use of negative space pulls the viewer through the composition, giving the eye room to relax and ponder. These one-of-a kind prints ask the audience to consider curated landscapes, constructed realities, and perceptions of nature versus natural environments.
All of these photographers, along with 30 others who will speak and exhibit their work at the MWSPE conference, are using the photographic medium to address issues of space and place. With topics as diverse as climate change and race relations, they embrace the power of the image to generate discussion and open minds to new ideas. a&s
Margaret LeJeune is an associate professor of photography at Bradley University. The MWSPE annual conference will take place October 12-15, 2017 at Embassy Suites in East Peoria, in conjunction with exhibitions and receptions across the region. For complete details, visit spenational.org/conferences/developing-spacesplaces/schedule.