Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
At first glance, a pair of two black and white photographs posted on Martin Froger-Silva ‘16’s Facebook page appeared to me as sharply defined canyons and sand dunes, reminiscent of the weathered landscape in Timothy O’Sullivan’s Canyon de Chelly, 1873. Yet a closer look redirected me to the fact that these images were actually “beautiful ‘snow waves/dunes/cliffs’ formed by the wind in Philly”, as captioned by Froger-Silva. This was my first experience with the striking composition of Froger-Silva’s landscapes, a collection of which will be exhibited today, January 29, at the Kitao Gallery.
The show opens at 4:30 p.m. to the entire Swarthmore community and will be followed by an open-mike night from 8:00 p.m. until midnight. Honey Pickup, a Kitao favorite, will be making an appearance, as well. His work will be on exhibit for the next few weeks.
In preparation for the event, I met with Froger-Silva to talk about his work for the show and his experience with photography. Froger-Silva grew up in Maryland where he recalled borrowing his mom’s camera when he was 12 or 13 to take photos while they traveled. It was not until he arrived at Swarthmore that he seriously began exploring the art.
“I remember going the first day of freshman year to the media center and being like, I know you guys have cameras, can I get one? And they’re like, okay! I think I took the camera for three months. Every day I was in there like can I borrow one of those! Yeah, it’s intense but that’s the only way to do it,” Froger-Silva said.
He was at first drawn to using a 100mm macro lens to take close-ups of water and droplets. In a vein similar to that of his two recent photos of snow waves in Philadelphia, Froger-Silva remembered capturing images of water dripping off of steps in a way that came across as miniature waterfalls.
“I wanted to see all the things you wouldn’t pay attention to normally, like things on the floor, or things up above. I got out this morning and took out my camera and wanted to take macro shots again of the leaves, snow, trees,” he said.
Froger-Silva’s work has been informed by his experience at Swarthmore. A film class he took freshmen spring convinced him that he wanted to become a film major. He also remembered an independent study he did with art Professor Ron Tarver in which he looked at the symbiosis between humans and machines expressed as a series of self-portraits with electronics lying around. More recently, Froger-Silva has focused on exploring the art of short films and documentaries, but he wanted to master composition as a photographer before making films.
“I see photography as this intersection between our worlds as a 3D space. You can walk around in the world as a 3D space but if you just sit inside a room and look outside it’s 2D. And that’s kind of like what a photograph is. You can take the photograph and take it wherever you want […] You can travel without traveling,” he said.
While his Kitao show will feature a variety of landscape photos he has taken during his travels, he admitted that he enjoys portraits the most. He expressed his fascination with the task of representing the subject in the best manner as a means of honoring and thanking them for their time. Since attending a National Geographic exhibit where female photographers shared their experiences, he has tried to live by the idea that a portrait isn’t taken, it’s given. In this sense, Froger-Silva always asks someone first if he can take a portrait. For instance, during his semester spent in London, he described how he would often meet and chat with someone on the street for twenty minutes. At the end of the conversation, he would ask to take a portrait.
“I think spending time with your subject whenever you’re taking a photo is really important. Like a landscape, you’ll walk around, and you’ll see what’s the best angle and you’ll get to know the location, and then you’ll take the photo. And same with a person. A person is a landscape in a way. You’ve got to walk around and see; a person’s face has so many ways to be shown. By talking to them, there’s more of a connection for you as the photographer, and I think it shows in the photos,” he explained.
Looking ahead, Froger-Silva is working on his film thesis as well as a documentary in one of his classes this semester–perhaps he will return to Kitao later in the spring for a film screening. After concluding our meeting by showing me a few of the photos he plans to put up for Friday, Froger-Silva left to meet some friends for a new portrait project in the snow.
Photo by Martin Froger-Silva ’16