Seniors cap 4 years of learning in thesis exhibit
When David Rathbun began the photography major at Grand Valley State University back in 1981, it was the only major to require a senior thesis. Fast-forward almost 30 years and it is obvious the photography program was ahead of the rest of the university.
“We were committed to student expression from the beginning of the major,” Rathbun said.
After that, Glenn Niemeyer used the photography major as an example of a senior capstone when he mandated a similar course for everyone else.
Years later, 11 winter 2010 senior photography students will continue the tradition with their senior thesis show, “BANGARANG!” The exhibit takes place from Tuesday through May 1 in the GVSU Art Gallery.
“The thesis show is my best demonstration that the photography major at Grand Valley … accomplishes what we expect it to accomplish,” Rathbun said.
Rathbun said he believes the show reveals two things: that the work is of uniformly high quality and conception, and that no two bodies of work are alike. In addition, it serves as a demonstration that the program is committed to a liberal arts education, as one can literally see the ways other subjects have influenced the photographers in their pieces.
Each photographer has worked on a set of specific photographs to contribute to the exhibit; it is not merely a collection of their best pieces.
Dana Bloodworth’s pieces are from Macedonia and Ireland, including the one shown.
“I’m proud of all of my images, and each one has special meaning to me and tells a story in itself,” she said.
After she graduates, Bloodworth plans to continue her travel photography by moving to Alaska.
“(Graduation) always seemed so far away and like a dream, but now that it’s right around the corner and all the pieces are falling together, I am anxious to make that dream come true,” she added.
Student and co-exhibitor Jenna Raber took a whole different direction on her pieces, which Rathbun said shows each student truly found who he or she is rather than taking on the style of his or her professors.
“My work is … about growing up and gaining perspective, so I believe there can be no better title than ‘BANGARANG!,’ the cry of the lost boys, to apply to my work,” Raber said.
She spent every weekend up north shooting her family members with her Canon 50D camera, then editing and printing her photos on campus. Although she is happy with her finished product, especially the “raw, anguished” portrait of her younger brother, shooting family members turned out to be a little difficult.
“Working around my family’s schedules and moods made creating photographs a tricky business; especially when your relatives have no problem telling you off,” she said.
The students each have spent an entire semester, sometimes more than one, with their chosen faculty adviser to prepare their pieces for the exhibit. The usual weekly meetings consist of critiques of the work and what it is really about in a deeper sense.
Professor Stafford Smith served as mentor to some of the photography students.
“We met regularly over the course of this semester as I critiqued their work as it progressed, and made suggestions on sources of inspiration and possible historical reference,” Stafford said. “A high level of professional and artistic quality is evident in the work, and I think it would’ve been inconceivable only a few years ago for these students to think that they could reach this level of achievement in so short a time.”
Additionally, the seniors take a thesis class once a week where they work specifically on the exhibit itself, with activities such as framing and organizing the logistics of the show.
“BANGARANG!” was the perfect name for the exhibit, Bloodworth said, because it is “something exciting and energetic, yet mysterious, since that seemed to fit everyone’s work.”
The GVSU Art Gallery is open Monday through Friday, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The photographers will be on hand Thursday from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. for the opening reception.