Photo students’ diverse talents made Manifest at Columbia

Putting the best work of Columbia College’s graduating photography students on display, Manifest, Columbia College’s B.A./B.F.A. photography exhibition showcases a veritable kaleidoscope of student talent.

By Derrick Teo Wee Ghee

Walk through Columbia College Chicago’s Michigan Avenue gallery doors, and you’ll be greeted by photographic works running the gamut from close-ups of cake to shots of models wearing dresses made of deflated balloons. Putting the best work of Columbia College’s graduating photography students on display, Manifest, Columbia College’s B.A./B.F.A. photography exhibition showcases a veritable kaleidoscope of perspectives.

Curator Gina Grillo, an adjunct professor at the college, says that the exhibit represents the variety of talent present in Columbia’s photography students. “It’s a testament to our diversity,” Grillo says. “The works on display are representative of each photographer’s individuality.” Among the great diversity of subject matter and technique on display, the exhibit’s standouts offer a glimpse into the students’ personalities and perspectives of the world.

Anne Marie Hobbs, graduating this year with a B.F.A. in photography, decided to have a bit of fun with her project. Hobbs, who has also dabbled in fashion photography, thinks of the art as a chance to experiment. “I projected the most-viewed porn clips from free-access pornography web sites,” said Hobbs. “I’ve always been interested in why people use porn.” The soft gradients and shadows of her silver prints suggest fine art, even as they depict projections of pornography onto everyday objects like a bed, a kitchen counter-top, and a radiator. The pictures’ small size forces the viewer to scrutinize the projected image.

Senior Riley Henderson’s photographs have a more political agenda. His works provocatively explore identity and race and attempt to open up and create a dialogue between them. In a set of prints titled “Broken Wall,” he photographs some of his friends, each seated on a chair, in a way that resembles high school yearbook portraits. The twist is in their expressions: Over a placid countenance, Henderson projects an overhead of the same person with an expression that is more intimate, more emotional, and rawer. “Some people put up mental and physical barriers and don’t get to express themselves, and this is an unhealthy way to live that brings people to the breaking point,” he said.

Other students manage to leave a personal stamp on their work by pushing the envelope technically. Piero Taico explores the classic visual art trope of reflection, capturing five people gazing at themselves in the mirror and the windows on the doors of the El. Frederick M. Santa Ana’s four works represent an inquiry into the meaning of light in photographs, depicting ambient light in abandoned urban locales like overgrown rail tracks and rusting water towers.

There are also more whimsical collections on exhibition, including Kristina Smith’s three photographs of a group of almost identical-looking children in classrooms and playgrounds that deftly evoke the hands-full feeling that anyone who has tried to look after little kids will be familiar with. Ashley Rae Mathias’ four photographs combine photographs and embroidery, adding delicately sewn embellishments onto simple pictures of everyday items, like a dress hanging on a window frame.

The sheer number of photographs on display means that for each viewer, there will surely be some works that strike multiple chords and others that seem totally impenetrable. Space constraints also mean that captions and titles, which would contribute some way in helping the photographers convey their ideas more clearly, are done away with, leaving the walls of photographic works pretty much open to free interpretation. Although there is virtually no way of finding a thematic or conceptual thread that runs through all the works in the exhibition, there is one clear, common factor: Each collection manifests the photographer’s individuality. This Manifest exhibition is a supportive testimonial to the quality of this batch of graduates.