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.
On September 15, Ron Tarver, a Pulitzer Prize winner and Swarthmore Instructor of Studio Art, gave a lecture discussing the work of photographer and Swarthmore alum Bruce Cratsley in the Lang Center for the Performing Arts (LPAC). In the List Gallery, attached to LPAC, an exhibit of the late photographer’s work entitled “Bruce Cratsley: Shifting Identities” opened recently. The lecture was attended by students, community members, and even members of the Cratsley family.
The exhibit, “Bruce Cratsley: Shifting Identities,” features a selection of Cratsley’s photographs from the period between 1977 and 1998. The all black and white photographs depict a variety of subjects, from commonplace objects to Cratsley’s loved ones.
Cratsley was born in Swarthmore, Pennsylvania in 1944. He grew up in the area and attended Swarthmore College, graduating in 1966. He later moved to New York to study photography with teacher Lisette Model at the New School for Social Research. He worked as a gallerist and curator for many years at the Marlborough Gallery before leaving in 1986 to pursue photography full time. He died of AIDS in 1998.
The festivities began with an introduction by curator and List Galley director Andrea Packard. She discussed how Cratsley was selected for an exhibition due to his unique way of featuring “diverse subjects all approached with empathy.” That is to say, he attempted to show the humanity and truth behind each of his subjects.
Tarver gave the main lecture. He connected Cratsley’s work to that of the photographer’s mentors, such as photojournalist W. Eugene Smith, and his teacher, Lisette Model. He even compared and contrasted some of Model’s photos with Cratsley’s. Tarver also discussed the framing and spontaneity of Cratsley’s photographs, noting that they were “less didactic and more spiritual,” meaning that they primarily conveyed soul and honesty over any ulterior message.
Tarver also analyzed Cratsley’s unique methods of photography. The black and white images were primarily taken with a twin lens medium format Rolleiflex camera. For further effect, Cratsley printed his photographs in a square format.
The subjects of Cratsley’s photographs were also addressed in the lecture. Cratsley had many subjects, including Greek statues, streets, and Gay Pride parades. The AIDS crisis is heavily featured in Cratsley’s work. There are also a few portraits of Cratsley’s partner David, who battled and subsequently died of AIDS.
On the whole, the exhibit offers a unique look at the photographer’s repertoire.
“I think the way that the exhibit interacts with identity is very powerful and can provoke a lot of questions for people,” sophomore and gallery worker Celine Anderson said. “Part of the true beauty of the exhibit is being able to look so closely at his images and see what they can reveal about the artist himself.”
The exhibit, which will remain in the List Gallery until October 19, offers students the unique and unmissable opportunity to see identity through the lens of someone who embraced and celebrated individuality.
Image by Bruce Cratsley’66