Victoria Meng: Life at the Penn Museum

 

Photography, Video and Text by Victoria Meng, Copyright 2017

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LIFE AT THE PENN MUSEUM

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Sometimes on rainy afternoons in the Penn Museum, when the air is more musty than usual, and the light is just dim enough, I feel as if I can almost hear the alluring whisper of the past, the echo of music and laughter from a forgotten era.

On my first day of work at the Penn Museum, my boss took me on a tour. As we walked among the cool, darkened hallways that house over a million artifacts, I learned about the museum’s illustrious history.

At the end of the 19th century, Provost William Pepper commissioned the museum as a humble way to house artifacts. Through the course of the next few decades, the Penn Museum would evolve into a prestigious institution where Philadelphia’s elite could ascend to higher society.

From the exotic architectural motifs to the smallest details in building fixtures, the Penn Museum would’ve been an incredible marvel at the time that it was constructed. Complete with mosaics designed by Tiffanys, seemingly no expense was spared in creating an “eclectic Victorian extravaganza.”

Yet, as I recount my memory of the museum tour, I remember one detail in particular.

In 1929, Alexander Stirling Calder, was commissioned to create a statue for the European gallery. While his father was known for putting William Penn on top of City Hall and his son reached international acclaim for his mobiles, Stirling made his own statement with a depiction of a Greek maiden styled like a Roaring 20s flapper.

Ironically, it was this anachronistic detail that really became my inspiration. This proof that the museum had once been a backdrop for Gatsby-scale parties made history more real to me than ever before. In fact, the more I looked into the Museum during this era, the more true life became stranger than fiction.

At one point in the early 20th century, a glamorous reception attracted more than eight hundred guests. Two of these guests, perhaps under the influence of too much champagne, allegedly climbed on top of and eventually collapsed ancient Chinese tomb figures of camels. While the ruins were eventually restored to original condition, this raucous memory lives on in my imagination.

Ultimately, my inspiration for my portraits was derived from the Museum’s core mission: to help us remember who we are and where we came from. The more I learn about anthropology, the more I realize that although the way that we live has changed greatly, who we are as humans has hardly wavered.

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Portrait of Victoria Meng by Simeon Ristic, Copyright 2017

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About The Author: Victoria Meng is a Sophomore enrolled in the Wharton School of Business, University of Pennsylvania, Class of 2020.

Matt Garber: Shades of Emotion

 

Photography, Text and Video Interview by Matt Garber, Copyright 2017

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SHADES OF EMOTION

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Countless psychological studies recognize the relationship between color and emotion. Restaurants are painted red to inspire hunger and love; green rooms are green to provoke calmness and happiness.

After the assignment was presented, I stumbled, almost accidentally, upon the effects of projecting color onto a subject. Seeing the results, I knew immediately that this method should be the centerpiece of my photoset.

Therefore, each emotion features a different color projected into the scene: green for happiness, blue for sadness, red for love. The only challenge was despair. Ultimately, I realized that despair is the kind of emotion that brings a feeling of helplessness, sadness, vulnerability, and emptiness. Despair is so overwhelming that it leaves an individual almost blank. Despair is a powerful lack of color, so those photographs are black and white.

The methods used in the process were varied. Sometimes, soft white light would come from tungsten lights and reflectors, while blue light was projected from a smartphone’s screen. Other times, colored light sources included everything from laptops to flashlights with homemade filters. Providing keylights on-location proved challenging, given the challenges to setting up tungsten lights, so often a flashlight and the camera flash were used.

The colored fill lights and keylights make for quite the challenge photographically, but the bouncing and rounding effects contribute to the emotionality of each photograph. Ultimately, the color projections help project emotion onto the subject, in the same way the colors of our surroundings can project emotions onto us.

The hardest emotion to produce is love. Love is possibly the most powerful emotion humans experience, and therefore to display it, the subject reflects on the people most meaningful to her in her life: family and friends. Where happiness and sadness and even despair can often be projected by outside influences, love is more internal. In that way, despite constituting the greatest challenge, it is also the most impactful for the subject to call upon these moments in her life.

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Portrait of Matt Garber by Julia Chun, Copyright 2017
Portrait of Matt Garber by Julia Chun, Copyright 2017

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About The Author: Matt Garber is a Freshman enrolled in the College of the University of Pennsylvania, Class of 2020

Karen Liao: Bare

 

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Photography, Text and Video Interview by Karen Liao, Copyright 2017

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BARE

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The state of one’s mental health is never an easy topic to discuss. There may be fear of being easily dismissed or of burdening others. There may be an uncomfortable feeling of vulnerability. There may be conflict in not even personally being able to understand their own emotions. It’s true that these feelings exist across both the physical and emotional disease continuum for people. But unfortunately, a particularly strong stigma with mental health makes it more even more difficult for people struggling with this aspect of their health to voice their struggles. The veil of shame surrounding the topic also prevents many people from seeking care. Well-being is defined as health of both the mind and the body– we need to reevaluate and strive towards improving health in all aspects of a person.

These are all important lessons that I’ve learned from my college experience. As a nursing student, I’ve learned the pathophysiology, clinical manifestations, and treatments for mental illnesses. But the main factor in my life that has helped me come to much better understand mental health is my friend pictured in the portraitures. She struggles with a variety of mental health issues, and my friendship with her has taught me so much about what a person with mental illnesses struggle with in daily life. These four core human emotions of happiness, sadness, love, and despair manifest themselves so much more extremely in her than in any other person I’ve met. She describes herself as “feeling more deeply” than others.

Tackling mental health stigma can begin by starting conversations and opening up about what mental illnesses feels like. And so my portraitures, I hope, can exemplify the destruction of the pretenses and shame that surround mental illnesses. These pictures of my friend illustrate her actual emotional states at the time. The emotions are real, and they represent the fluctuations in her mental well-being that she constantly struggles with. Through these portraitures, she is willing to be vulnerable, baring it all.

I just wanted to add that these portraits are also a tribute to her strength. Despite all that she has been struggling through over the years—so many tears shed that there are none left, the feeling of utter hopelessness—she is brave enough to keep moving forward and find the happiness and love in life. And so those are the things that I wish for her to have more of– self-love and confidence, more time with her beloved pug, and a life that’s always filled with physically and emotionally beautiful things. 

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Portrait of Karen Liao by Julia Chun, Copyright 2017

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About The Author: Karen Liao is a Junior enrolled in the School of Nursing, University of Pennsylvania, Class of 2019

Sharon Song: The Un-pedestrian Pedestrians of NYFW

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Photo: Sharon Song, Copyright 2017

 

Photography and Text by Sharon Song, Copyright 2017

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THE UN-PEDESTRIAN PEDESTRIANS OF NYFW

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Walking the streets of NYC during New York Fashion week elicited a kind of emotion unlike any other I have ever experienced before. Growing up just a little outside of the city that never sleeps, I have always been aware of the unique and eclectic styles of NYC’s inhabitants. However, I had never seen such a concentrated population of such bold fashion statements crossing downtown streets in this magnitude. People elected to express their passion for fashion and self-expression with vibrant colors in both garment and hair. Patterns from busy to more simple designs were donned, yet each meticulously curated look said something significant about the canvas it was showcased on; the person.

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Photo: Sharon Song

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New York Fashion week exemplified the variation that exists in street fashion. Although trends come and go, being self-expressive always persists. Models clad in metallic chose to reflect the sun’s light that day, while those in denim opted to put their own twist on something more traditional and timeless. Individuals chose leather to express their edge and funky sunglasses to represent their quirks. Personality was built into every thoughtful garment and accessory. These pedestrians were anything but pedestrian. They were risk takers, trying to push the boundaries of common trends and establish new and unique ones.

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Photo: Sharon Song, Copyright 2017

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Photo: Sharon Song, Copyright 2017

Above all, the common theme that I noticed was that people were proud. Every individual was excited to show off their looks and few shied away from curiosity towards their ensembles. They were flattered by admirers’ interest in their styles, and willingly posed for requested shots.

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Photo: Sharon Song, Copyright 2017

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Photo: Sharon Song, Copyright 2017

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Their outfits called for attention and praise, which onlookers readily gave. This, in turn, offered appreciation for the creativity and individuality of the people behind these looks. As a result of the progressive nature of NYC, people were given the opportunity to be bold about their vulnerabilities and insecurities. The environment was one that exuded acceptance and collective love for fashion. Thus, it was here, on the streets of New York, that everyone could be the most true and honest version of themselves.

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Photo: Sharon Song, Copyright 2017

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Photo: Sharon Song, Copyright 2017

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Photo: Sharon Song, Copyright 2017

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Portrait of Sharon Song by Karishma Sheth, Copyright 2017

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About The Author: Sharon Song is a Senior enrolled in the Wharton School of Business, University of Pennsylvania, Class of 2018

 

Jessica Moh: Statement in One Piece

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Photo: Jessica Moh, Copyright 2017
 

 

Photography and Text by Jessica Moh, Copyright, 2017

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STATEMENT IN ONE PIECE

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I chose the theme statement because I wanted to portray the power of a single accessory or clothing item that can completely transform an outfit. Many people think that making a bold statement might be standing up for one’s beliefs verbally, but quite frankly, visual fashion statements are just as striking as verbal remarks.

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Photo: Jessica Moh, Copyright 2017

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Common trends seen throughout fashion are outfits that “fit” together, ones that are cohesive and in unison. However, those are not the outfits that are memorable. Outfits that use audacious colors contrasting against neutral colors stay in people’s memories forever. Outfits that are daring and unconventional spark controversial conversations between fashion critiques. Those outfits are the ones that stand out in a crowd of people and are the ones that should be recognized.

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Photo: Jessica Moh, Copyright 2017

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This trend of using “statement pieces” often uses clothing items such as the shirt and pants as the backdrop to the expressive accessory. Neutral colors are often seen contrasted with bold warm and cool colored items. These outfits show off the accessory making it known that the whole outfit was created around this single accessory.

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Photo: Jessica Moh, Copyright 2017

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Photo: Jessica Moh, Copyright 2017

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However, it is interesting how fashion seems to make the audience think and believe that colors such as red or green are seen as “bold” and “expressive”. Why is black or white not treated with the same regard? Yes having a black, white or neutral toned outfit is expressive in its own terms, but adding a bold red bag to the piece automatically makes the audience think the outfit is more interesting. Has this notion been engraved into our minds to perceive that bold colors are only seen as “accessory colors”? For example, if someone wore red pants and every other article of clothing was black, would people consider that a statement piece of clothing or just part of the outfit? To think that the pants are considered “bold” because they are red is falling into the opinion that colors that are not white, black and/or neutral are expressive and audacious. But to think in the other perspective, how would we determine which outfits are “fashion-forward” and are controversial?

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Photo: Jessica Moh, Copyright 2017

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Portrait of Jessica Moh by Sharon Song, Copyright 2017

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About The Author: Jessica Moh is a sophomore enrolled in the College of the University of Pennsylvania,  Class of 2020.