On display in the McCabe atrium through April 29 is a cache of student photography from 2008 to 2018. The exhibit consists of 24 stand-alone photos and eight displays of multiple photos on a theme. There are a range of styles, subjects, and meanings behind the student works.
When you walk into McCabe, you can’t miss the first display of egg-related photos appropriately titled “Twelve Views of an Egg” from the spring 2017 Photography II course. Although they are all obviously connected by the use of an egg as their subject matter, each photo has a unique expression. As a viewer, it is satisfying to grasp a physical similarity in all the photos which accentuates each one’s unique take. One of the photos displayed was taken by John Wehmiller ̕66, an alum whose work has been previously displayed in the List Gallery and at the West End Gallery in Media. The egg as the subject matter was derived from his photo, and the exhibit is an homage to the legacy of photography at Swarthmore.
An exhibit of works by Raina Williams ̕18 entitled “NOSE, LIPS, HAIR” has a more radical purpose. Historically, these features on black people have been cited as unattractive largely because of pseudoscientific racism or pre-existing prejudice. Williams took intimately close-up photos of these three characteristics on a number of black models to “dispel the notion of ugliness and display the absolute beauty of these features in their natural form.” Her work reminds me of a similar sentiment in Beyoncé’s iconic lyrics in “Formation:” “I like my baby hair, with baby hair and afros, I like my Negro nose with Jackson Five nostrils,” in which she embraces features in defiance of their traditionally negative depiction. Williams uses the medium of photography to achieve the same goal. She invites the viewer in with the proximity of the photo and shows the diversity within these features that have been portrayed as homogeneous and inferior.
Another exhibit that makes a statement is entitled “Greetings from Chester.” This is a collection of photos from the Photography II class of spring 2014. The city of Chester is often the focus of community outreach and civic engagement work at Swarthmore. Chester is often associated with high crime rates, economic distress, and ecological misfortune, but this photoset aims to create a more holistic photoset of the community. A photo of an industrial plant spouting pollution into the air is reminiscent of the longstanding environmental justice concerns with the toxic fumes emitted by the waste incinerator. The photo next to it, however, simply shows two men in amicable conversation. The juxtaposition reminds the viewer that Chester is not only a place of formidable socio-economic obstacles, but a community of people.
Aside from these themed exhibits, the walls in the lobby are covered with 24 individual, framed photographs. There is a mix of portraits, landscapes, and abstract compositions. One of the more abstract photos was taken by Nancy Haro ’13 for Color Photography in spring 2013, which is also featured on the poster for the exhibit. The viewer can tell that the photo is of some type of liquid and it’s so close to the individual drops that you can see the contours and gradients. The more you stare at it, the less it’s clear what the photo literally represents. It’s quite entrancing.
Of the landscape photos, the one that stood out to me was taken by Philip Queen ’16 for Photography II in 2016. The scene is a French street corner cafe at night, with people sitting out front, talking in the doorway, and waiting to cross at the curb. The picture is given depth by the long line of light fixtures that the viewer can see through the cafe window, which contrasts the flat repetition of the chairs outside. The photo invites the viewer in, but also maintains some perspective given the distance of the photographer.
I’ve highlighted the pieces that stood out to me, but I would encourage anyone passing through McCabe lobby to take a minute to appreciate the artistic endeavors of fellow Swatties and alumni.