On Exhibit: When photos lead to dialogue

'This Place,' a teaching exhibition, explores various perspectives of Israel and the West Bank
"Daybreak" by Jeff Wall.
"Daybreak" by Jeff Wall.

Where does our perception of a place come from? 

Is it the latest news coverage of it? Is it a passing memory or maybe a snapshot we saw? 

“This Place,” a teaching exhibition, explores various perspectives of Israel and the West Bank through the works of 12 photographers. The exhibition spans four colleges in New York State, including the Tang Teaching Museum and the University Art Museum at the University at Albany. 

The exhibition opens at the University today and at the Tang on Saturday. 

“These are some of the most renowned photographers of today,” said Corinna Ripps Schaming, the associate director of the University Art Museum. 

Large-scale works by Martin Kollar, Jungjin Lee, Thomas Struth and Jeff Wall line the gallery walls at the University Art Museum.

Perhaps the most immediately striking, just based on sheer size, is “Daybreak,” by Wall. 

“[it’s] monumental … over 11 feet long,” Schaming said.

Subjects in the foreground appear to be sleeping on blankets on the sandy terrain, with sunlight coming up over buildings in the distance. It’s a warm yet stark composition, hinting at the complex nature of the place. 

That sense of complexity anchors the entire exhibition and is the foundation for how the project began. Between 2009 and 2012, the 12 photographers featured in the exhibition were invited by “This Place” organizer Frédéric Brenner to visit Israel and the West Bank to capture what they saw. 

“Each artist had complete free reign,” Schaming said. 

Indeed, works by Wendy Ewald show a different side of the country than what Wall’s piece showed. Ewald’s work, which is featured at the Tang, focuses more on the people themselves. 

“Her work is very interesting to me because she goes into the field and teaches her subjects,” said Rachel Seligman, the assistant director for curatorial affairs and Malloy curator at the Tang. 

Ewald worked with 14 different groups of people from various regions in the country to teach them about photography, but also to learn about their country from their perspective. 

Her works also open up a dialogue with Nick Waplington’s work, another photographer in the exhibition at the Tang. His work focuses on families across the country. Each reveals a different aspect or region of Israel, reflecting various economic classes, religions and landscapes. Other photographers including Gilles Peress and Stephen Shore will be on exhibition at the Tang. Peress’ photographs explore the dissonance between the Palestinian experience and the Israeli experience, while Shore’s pieces focus on the various landscapes in the region, touching on the intricacy of the area. 

The works featured in “This Place” are powerful on their own, however, both Schaming and Seligman hope that the photographs lead to equally powerful conversation.The exhibition was funded by a Teagle Foundation Grant, which seeks to integrate museum-based learning into multiple disciplines. At both the Tang and the University Art Museum, entire classes have been built around the exhibitions and over a dozen classes are weaving the exhibition into their courses. 

“This Place” creates a space in which difficult questions are raised, said Seligman, adding “The artwork is generating room for that.”

At the University Art Museum, there’s a central seating place for classes and viewers to gather and according to Schaming, classes will be going in and out of the exhibition regularly so non-student viewers might catch a few minutes of a class and start to think of the exhibition from a different viewpoint.  

“The goal of this exhibit is to engender dialogue … If it can’t happen in an academic setting, where else can it happen?” Schaming said. 

Perhaps there isn’t a singular answer as to how we develop a perception of a place.      

But “This Place,” seeks to explore those perceptions, make the viewer question them and perhaps come away with an altered impression. As philosopher Gaston Bachelard said, “When the image is new, the world is new.” 

Meet the Artists

At 5 p.m. on Sat. Stephen Shore will give a talk at The Tang. For more information, visit tang.skidmore.edu.

At 7 p.m., Tues. Feb. 6 Jungjin Lee will give a talk at the University Art Museum. For more information, call 518-442-3300.

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