Photography and Text by Aaron Graybill, Copyright 2021
Merion Botanical Park 2021
Waiting for time to pass is the feeling of quarantine. Waiting for good or bad news and waiting for days to pass. Nature can both accentuate or soften the passage of time. Leafless trees in winter make time feel static, but new blooms bring a feeling of renewal.
The Merion Botanical Park series was created to capture the anachrony of the quarantine experience. This takes a normally familiar scene, a public park, and magnifies its details to recontextualize the park experience and offers a refreshing look into the beauty in the austerity that late winer is known for.
The portfolio juxtaposes life and death, takes the big picture and the small details, and acknowledges that focus must be selective.
Photography and Text by Rachel Grand, Copyright 2021
Pandemic Passover in Pennsylvania
Passover is one of the most important and widely celebrated Jewish holidays. It is a holiday that commemorates the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt: out of slavery, into freedom. It is an 8-day holiday centered around gratitude for that freedom.
As part of the exodus story, when the Israelites were fleeing from Egypt, they did not have enough time for their bread to rise. They had to take it with them from the oven while it was still unleavened. To remember this, as part of the observance of Passover, one does not eat any leavened bread. Rather, one is commanded to eat what the Israelites would have eaten, matzah, the unleavened bread, at least once a day for the duration of the holiday. Additionally, Ashkenazi Jews, those descended from Eastern European Jewry, traditionally do not eat rice, beans, corn or any other legumes. With so many restricted foods, it becomes necessary to be extremely intentional about what one eats.
Thus, Passover becomes a holiday centered around food. A holiday celebrated at home, rather than in a synagogue, there is autonomy, variety and creativity in how this holiday is observed. This indeterminacy is especially pronounced on a college campus, where each student comes from a different background and family tradition. The community that is created is thus intentional, formed from compromise.
Especially in a year of a pandemic, this holiday brings out the durability of the community. Because of the dietary laws, the Jewish organizations on campus provide meals for students that are kosher for Passover. This act of eating meals together, while maintaining social distance, creates a temporary, yet powerful space. In a time of pandemic induced social isolation, there is a newfound appreciation for these communal meals. But Passover comes and goes; the restrictions and alterations to the routine only last 8 days. The special dishes and foods for this holiday must be put away and all is restored back to normal. In a year, it will begin again.
In this photograph report, I plan to examine a piece called the White House Gate created by Rosalind Solomon. I will start with the biography of the photographer, Rosalind Solomon. After, I will explain how print quality, print materials, and print size impacts the image of The White House Gates image. Then I will claim that The White House Gate image is best categorized as its dominant formal characteristics as defined in John Szarkowski’s book: The Photographer’s Eye the detail. Lastly, I will conclude with how the other components Szarkowski mentioned will shape the photograph.
Rosalind Solomon: Biographical and Historical Context
Rosalind Fox Solomon was born on April 2 in 1930, at Highland Park, Illinois. She is an American artist, established in New York City, known for her portraits and connections to human suffering, ritual, and survival. Solomon attended Highland Park High School and graduated in 1947. She then attended Goucher College in Baltimore, Maryland, and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science in 1951. Then, Solomon got married and moved to Chattanooga, Tennessee. She then later divorced 63 years later after having two children. In 1968, Solomon began her photography work. She occasionally studied with Lisette Model, whose an Austrian-born American photographer primarily known for her frank humanism on her street photography from 1971 to 1977.
Before Solomon started to get into photography, she became the Southern Regional Director of the Experiment in International Living. She visited communities throughout the Southern United States, where she recruited families to host international guests to build on cross-culture in a personal way. Through her volunteer work with the Experiment in International Living, Solomon got the opportunity to travel to Japan, where Solomon stayed with a family near Tokyo. Later, when Solomon was 38 years old, she began to use an Instamatic camera to convey her feelings and ideas, which was a turning point in her career and life experience in photography.
In 1977 and 1978, Solomon moved to Washington where she photographed artists and politicians for her project series “Outside the White House”. Within this series, she photographed “The White House Gate”, the one I will later be exploring. This project lasted for about two years. Later on, in 1978, John Szarkowski included her work in the exhibition Mirrors and Windows at the Museum of Modern Art and presented examples from her Dolls and Mannequins series in the show. The use of dolls, children, and mannequins was some of the items she used as her subject. Also, Szarkowski selected 50 of her pictures to be part of the MoMA’s permanent collection. Her pictures appeared over the years in many different group exhibitions at the MoMA such as American Children, American Politicians, Pictures by Women: A History of Modern Photography, and The Original Copy: Sculpture in Photography 1839. Recently, the MoMA included her work in the anthology Photography at MoMA: 1960—Now, and curator, Peter Eleey, even dedicated a room to present her art pieces at MoMA PS1 in the Greater New York 2015 exhibition. Ultimately, this led to the rise of her as a photographer and the beginning of her work internationally like Peru, India, Germany, Zimbabwe, South Africa, etc.
Overall, Solomon’s work circulates between the personal and the universe as a whole. Her expertise is in her interpretation skill and the ability to take a snapshot of both social elements of the places she travels. In 2019, her artwork was recognized by receiving the Lifetime Achievement Award from the International Center for Photography. Over the past 45 years, Solomon has created inspirational work, presented in almost 30 solo exhibitions, about 100 group exhibitions, and in the collection of over 50 museums worldwide.
Medium and Presentation
As mentioned, Solomon worked on the “Outside the White House” series. In this series, Solomon created a piece called “The White House Gate” in 1977. The photograph is present in the Jane Lutnick Fine Arts Center at Haverford College. This image is a gelatin silver bromide print. A gelatin silver print can be sharply defined and detailed based on the light sensitivity to the silver halides. Also, this type of print can last several hundred years. The picture has a strong negative, specifically on the gate, which is probably due to the silver chloride to darken the gates and make the gate pop in the image.
The dimension of the picture is 15” x 15” (38 cm by 38 cm). The photograph is generally a regular size. But, it’s over matted with a beveled-shaped edge around the image. So it allows the viewer to focus more on the White House gate. Overall, the purchase of the photograph was through a Patrons of Art gift in May 1986.
“The Detail” in The White House Gate
In the book, the Photographer’s Eye, John Szarkowski describes an overview of the fundamental difficulties and opportunities of the photographs. In the introduction of the book, he offers a brief historical overview of photography, specifically how photography has evolved over the years and how he views it as a unique characteristic. Szarkowski begins the book by stating that “the invention of photography provided a radically new picture-making process- a process based not on synthesis but selection. The difference was a basic one. Paintings were made-constructed from a storehouse of traditional schemes and skills and attitudes-but photographs, as the man on the street put it, were taken” (1). This led to the posed question – how can the process of photography be used in creating meaningful/significant pictures and valid art? In the book, Szarkowski argues that photography has a unique place within the broader world of artistic practice. Throughout the book, Szarkowski discusses and provides exemplar photographs of characteristics of the medium that is represented as a form of art but does not define discrete categories of artwork. He states five main characteristics: the thing itself, the detail, the frame, time, and vantage point that are important for the creation of eloquent photography.
According to The Photographer’s Eye, Szarowski would say that the photograph of the White House Gate would be a picture representing “the detail”. The idea of “the detail” photography connects to depicting reality and depicting reality as it happens, in front of the photographer. The photography can not really “pose the truth”, but can capture snippets of the truth as it unfolds. So, the photographer needs to be content with representing the details of a narrative or an event, rather than trying to represent the whole thing.
In The White House Gate image, Solomon shows us different parts of the image. In the photograph, Solomon focuses on multiple details. One detail is the picture being taken in 1977 in front of the White House Gate at Washington, District of Columbia, US. The photograph displays the northwest gate of the White House during a snowstorm. The photograph shows that it was currently snowing as it was taken. In the picture, we see snowflakes falling as well as sticking to the gate and the ground. This detail informs the viewer of the time/season it occurred, which captured a fragment in depicting reality.
Another fragment is the tire marks on the ground. The tire marks are emphasizing that a car must have recently entire the White House before Solomon took this picture. Or Solomon could have intentionally had a car drive into the White House before she took the picture. This is another fragment that part takes in bringing the whole picture together.
Lastly, the darkness of the gate of the White House is a vital detail for the narrative. The strong negative of the photograph helps bring viewer attention to the gate and what surrounds the gate. Ultimately, through all these different elements and details, Solomon is portraying a form of a statement.
The Thing Itself, The Frame, Time, Vantage Point
In The Photographer’s Eye, Szarkowski states that the first characteristic is the thing itself. The “thing itself” means that photography provides a representation of the real world. Photographers focus on divulging what already exists. In the White House Gate image, Rosalind Solomon emphasizes a place that already exists. Specifically,that is very known to the US population and others around the world. But in the picture, she decided to center the image on the gate instead of the actual White House buildings itself.
Next, the “frame” refers to the edge and the border between the elements of the real scene that the photographer decided to include, and what they decided not to include. Solomon chooses to focus the photograph on the frame, specifically on the White House gate when viewers first see the image.
The fourth characteristic is “time” which provides the photographed location over time. Furthermore, the photographs can not directly represent the past or the future but can imply it. In The Photographer’s Eye, Szarkowski mentions two ways that time exposure produces images and insight. The first one is long time exposure and, the second one is a short time exposure. In the White House Gate image, we see time play a role with the snow falling and car tire marks in the snow. The snow informs us of what season it currently was when the picture was taken; which was winter and, the time the picture was taken it was snowing.
Finally, Szarkowski identifies the “vantage point.” The vantage point is when the photograph shows us the world from a variety of unusual angles and perspectives, which can alter our perspective of the world. Solomon portrays the image of the White House gate through a unique vantage point that can allow viewers to interpret the image in many different ways.
Photography and Text by Rachel Grand, Copyright 2021
Eating the Forbidden Fruit
In this composite portrait, I play with the notions of the abject and how it can play with the traditions and experience of Bryn Mawr College. I create a narrative that dramatizes the transformation of going to a women’s college. Many love it here, many can’t wait to graduate, but most will agree that this place is special. Living and learning among these somber, stone castle-like buildings reminds its students of its identity.
In each student’s freshman year, they are given a lantern during the ceremony that signifies the passing of wisdom. In my portrait, the figure with the donkey head acts as the physical embodiment of a mystical bearer of knowledge, shining the light of the iconic Bryn Mawr lantern and giving the forbidden fruit, like that of the tree of life, to its new student. The construction of other figures in the frame is inspired by princess and purity culture. The strappy white dress, instead of signifying sexual virginity, signifies informational virginity. She willingly approaches the donkey figure because she wants to know more.
Once she eats the forbidden fruit, and begins to gain knowledge herself, she maintains her corporeal beauty, but becomes one of the abject with the head of a frog. She lies like a corpse, having now understood the world, and her place in it. With her women’s college education, she is too smart to be attractive, as shown by her frog head. She mourns herself because she understands that society will never truly let her rise to her full potential. Her dress remains unchanged as a reminder of the implications of her physicality as a woman, despite her animal head.
As a second semester senior, thinking about what I have learned here, and where I will go next, this series plays with those anxieties.
About The Author: Rachel Grand is a senior enrolled at Bryn Mawr College majoring in Fine Arts and History. Class of 2021.
Photography and Text by Abby Harris, Copyright 2021
Happier Than Ever
I wanted to create a piece about music and how it can change, effect, and help you feel emotions. Music is there for us when we have our highest highs and our lowest lows, when we are in love and when we are heart broken. When I was going through a hard time in my life I purchased this pair of headphones to try and make myself feel better. Music has helped me through so many things in my life. When everything else felt like it was falling down around me I knew I could just lay on my floor and listen to my favorite song on repeat and it would be okay for a second. The headphones pictured in the shoot are the ones I purchased as a retail therapy present to myself.These headphones have let me experience music in a way that I didn’t think was possible. You can feel every note and hear every layer. In this piece I hear three different songs playing, each with a different mood. One of the songs I hear is “When The Party’s Over” by Billie Eilish. When I listen to it I just want to curl into a ball on the floor and experience my emotions. This is partly why I had the idea to do the photoshoot from above. The other two songs that inspired this piece are “Happier Than Ever” by Billie Eilish and “American Cliche” by FINNEAS. “Happier Than Ever” tells the story about being in a relationship with someone, yet when you are together you are both hurt, and when you are apart you are happier. The song painted such a picture in my head I wanted to portray it on film. “American Cliche” is a song that makes me wanna dance around my bedroom all by myself, so I had to include it for good vibes. Overall I wanted people to see how I feel about music and feel their own emotions about music through the images.
About The Author: Abby Harris is a sophomore enrolled at Bryn Mawr College, Class of 2023.