Nov 11, 2011

REVIEW | Witliff Collection | America through a Lense

Antonio Turok,  Solar Eclipse, print, 1991

I honestly wasn’t aware of the Witliff Collection and how extensive it was until a few months ago. One of my classes took a trip up to the Witliff gallery which is located on the 7th floor of Aklek. When first entering the exhibition space, I was at taken back. This level of the library was significantly different. It lacked the cold industrial look of the other floors of the library. Instead everything about the space screamed Texan decor. Despite the cheese factor of Texas decor it was somewhat refreshing after viewing every level of the library. At first the sheer amount of art in the space is overwhelming, but with further viewing it shows nicely cataloged an extensive historical viewpoint of Mexican-American photography. 

The first image I viewed immediately walking into the gallery space was a photograph by Antonio Turok the Solar Eclipse (Imaged above). Coming from a design background I initially thought “hey that’s a really cool edit (with Photoshop),” but later was corrected by my professor that it in fact had not been digitally altered. I thought the chaos of the birds flocking around the deeply contrasted sun gave off a sort of ominous tone to the overall photograph. The combination of the solar eclipse and the birds moving almost as if they were thrashing amidst the air almost transforms the setting into complete utter chaos. His photographs even compelled me to go home and look at some of his other works. They all seem to have the same deep almost stressed contrast between the positive and negative as they do in his photograph the Solar Eclipse.  The other photos in the room lined the wall equally spaced and dense amount (which makes it significantly differ from the exhibitions in the art building.) Some of the photos I had seen in textbooks, but I must admit it’s a completely different experience seeing them in person. I thought it was very interesting one of the library art directors was talking about the processes of photography how things are burned and developed while I was viewing the photos. It sort of helped me understand since I really have no previous experience with traditional photography and also added a bit of interesting commentary while i viewed the photographs. I left the exhibit knowing a lot more of how these photographers may have gotten to their final product.
Dorothy Lange, Migrant Mother, print, 1936

One of the more iconic photos in the gallery is the photo of “Migrant Mother” by Dorothy Lange. I believe this photo is still relevant in a contemporary standpoint, because of the current economic state.  Though the photo was taken several decades ago it still reminds the viewer that harsh times have befallen this country before and economic collapse isn’t something that has only happened in the past few years. I think what makes this photo so iconic is the woman’s expression, its a contemplative gaze. What may have been going through her mind at the time are thoughts desperation and struggle. Her children bury their faces in her shoulder as if they are looking to their mother to shield them from the environment. Dorothy Lange captures the struggles of lower class families through the image of this woman. Though the Witliff is a bit overwhelming I think it’s a cohesive and interesting exhibition of Mexican-American history that can be sometimes over-looked outside of the art department.  
-Zac Colquitt


WILL2LLOS said...

I'm such a sucker for black and white photography. The first photo in your post, Solar Eclipse, single-handedly convinced me to go see this exhibit. Just the fact that this photo is completely natural and not altered in any manner is incredible to me, it looks like something out of a creepy Spaghetti-Western movie or something. It also brings to mind Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds." You know it's a great photo when it takes my attention away from a photo like "Migrant Mother."

-Will Tullos

Post a Comment