The Lockhart Gallery's most recent exhibit uses the power of photography to immortalize complex and sometimes devastating social realities around the globe.
“Photography as Witness: Power and Politics, the Charged Landscape of the 21st Century” is composed of images captured by 11 artists. The exhibit documents a diverse range of contemporary subjects that include the Egyptian revolution, dining halls in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and American nuclear wastelands.
In determining the overarching concept for “Photography as Witness,” Director of Galleries Cynthia Hawkins said her objective was to bring new global perspectives to the Lockhart.
“How do you get people to think outside of your neighborhood and your block?” Hawkins asked. “Even though they have access to the entire world through technology, people's personal responses to things are very local.”
Studio art professor Michael Teres selected the works from a pool of artist submissions from across the United States and abroad.
Teres said one of his major selection criterion for “Photography as Witness” was whether a witness or “observer” of a historic event rather than a participant - someone actively involved in the event - photographed the submission. He added that there is “a very thin line” between witness and participant.
The artists contribute their witness' statement to the exhibit in different ways: some through blatant tension and others with delicate yet hard-hitting irony.
The work of Indian documentary photographer Sabelo Narasimhan is particularly powerful. In 2011, Narasimhan photographed the Egyptian revolution in Tahrir Square, capturing emotional and very human images.
In “Army stress/distress” a soldier holds his face in his hands, squatting in an alleyway littered with trash in the aftermath of an unknown event. The negative, harsh tension of this photo is matched by the positive energy of Narasimhan's “Tahrir Rhapsody.” It depicts women dressed in colorful flowing garments singing and clapping in a passionate and perhaps religious way.
American photographer and photo archivist Chris Sims took a different approach in witnessing the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. His photos are empty of people and instead depict environments inhabited by soldiers and prisoners. Sims voraciously packs power and meaning into his cast of inanimate objects.
“Administrative Review Board Meeting Room” depicts three simple chairs, two black and one white. The chairs seem to be the perches of prisoners and guards and the room a place where punishments were inflicted. Sims leaves us with only the ability to imagine these happenings.
Hawkins said the “Photography as Witness” brings to light “challenges going on in the world that we can only address if we know about them.”
“The images allow us the opportunity to act - a challenge to the viewer,” she added.