'Tumultuous' art exhibit displays student photography

By Daniel Goubert | 11/29/15 10:27am

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GVL / Courtesy Dan Goubert

by JACOB NUSS / Grand Valley Lanthorn

Though the idea of difference as a unifying theme may seem oxymoronic, a new on-campus exhibit depicts the group efforts of student photographers who have formed an impressive whole out of their 12 wildly different perspectives.

"Tumultuous" opens on Dec. 1 and will run through Dec. 12 in the art gallery of Grand Valley State University's Performing Arts Center. It displays the senior thesis projects of 12 students in GVSU's photography program, each of whom has contributed six to eight images in a variety of methods -- from chemically layered gum bichromate prints to a photo slideshow on a television to an installation with three-dimensional components.

Victoria Veenstra, associate professor of photography, taught the class of students. She said the mixture of old and new techniques helps make viewers' experience of the exhibit more impactful.

"If you think about what the word (tumultuous) means, it’s about things being in flux, things being in movement," Veenstra said. "Visual imagery informs the viewer in ways that words may not. There’s a response to (visual imagery) based on size or scale, color, subject matter. Some things are easier to understand when you see them than when you hear about them."

Erin Williams, whose exhibit piece "And This is the Journey to the Center of Freedom" depicts a narrative, episodic collection of meaningful moments in her life, said she and her classmates collectively voted on the name "Tumultuous" because of its relatable meaning for college students.

"It was the last idea that was thrown out," she said. "Everyone’s like, 'I like that, and it’s representative of what happens in college and what (college) is for us: loud and confusing.'

"Coming to see the way people view the world is always interesting and fun, just seeing how other people create or think. I think that’s always a really rewarding experience."

Williams said the exhibit's simultaneously collective and individual nature relates to broader trends in photography.

"I feel like I learned a lot about myself, because it forces a lot of self-reflection," Williams said. "There’s a lot of talent in the class. I’ve been working with these people the last couple of years, and (the exhibit) is really representative of how much they’ve grown individually.

"Photography is a really big community for everyone—in the program and in general. You learn a lot from your fellow students, they help you to come up with new ideas, or help you tweak new ideas."

Christi Wiltenburg, who created a series of gum bichromate prints that explore relationships between nature and the human figure, said the name is also reflective of the exhibit's intentionally diverse range of subject matter.

"We kind of looked at the whole chaotic side of (the word) tumultuous and the bright colors and the vibrance, the fun, crazy chaos that tumultuous can mean," she said. "We have a bunch of different things, and that’s our cohesive theme."

Wiltenburg added that this sense of diversity is not only a good reason to visit the exhibit, but it also influenced her own views of photography.

A reception will be held for "Tumultuous" on Dec. 3 from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Food will be provided, and visitors will have the chance to meet and speak with the student photographers.

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