Senior Studio Photography Show, These are Just my Memories

Georgia Horn, Arts Editor

Memories are complicated, their clarity tinged by rosy tones or obscured by dark smudges. In this space of recollection, the worst is exaggerated and the best forgotten, and our mind frames our past without regard to objective truth — if there even is such a thing. But yet, in spite of the impossibility of it, our preservational instinct remains strong, compelling us to record our daily thoughts in journals, save ticket stubs in scrapbooks and write songs to remember.

We have a fascination with pictures, and it is with this fascination that Review ThisWeek! editor Zoe Strassman’s senior studio show, These are Just my Memories, resonates. And although this review will be published three weeks after the March 16 opening of Strassman’s show, it seems somehow appropriate that it should also involve a process of remembering.

In photography we find the ability to capture a moment just as it was, or compose a moment just as we wanted it to be. Photography straddles the line between reality and fantasy, the cold objective and the romantic subjective. In photographs we recall the best, the worst and everything in between; they hold the potential to evoke emotions of almost any kind.

The content of a photograph, especially a family portrait, can be quite intimate, telling a specific story about personal moments. But photographs somehow retain a kind of universal appeal, telling a story about human relationships and providing a generalized lens into the past that overcomes the personal.

“Photography documents lives.” Strassman’s artist statement reads. “Families are composed of them. Our culture relies on [photography] for proof of existence and experience. In some ways, we entrust photographs to remember, knowing that we won’t always be able to ourselves. We trust the times and moments we choose to document will be worth remembering later.”

Strassman began with an interest in our generation’s unique conception of photography that comes from having grown up knowing photography both as an analog and a digital process. Using family photographs to investigate how people remember, she documented how college students store and display their own memories through a unique, quite poetic, approach. Rather than taking pictures of family and friends, she photographed the photographs of her family and friends, as the person to whom they belonged displayed them. While she composed each shot, the composition within the margins are those imagined by these other people. Strassman’s distancing approach was successful, although, she admitted, “one of the challenges of curating a solo-show of all photographs was to make sure that the space seemed dynamic, despite the similarity and symmetry.”

In spite of her concerns, with this distance Strassman achieved images with a kind of universal value — paradigms of memory — in which she is simultaneously curating and creating the work, making a new object out of an old object without altering its context and creating a dynamic atmosphere in spite of the lack of medium diversity. Strassman layers time, documenting someone else’s document and presenting it herself in the present. A personal take on the art of appropriation, others’s narratives become her narratives, and in viewing them, they become our own.

Transforming Fisher Gallery into a quasi-domestic space, Strassman’s photography opened up onto windows of nostalgia, a feeling heightened by the dark mahogany-stained frames, which had a matte, honest look, absent of the more performative gilded frames of neo-classical art or the sterile, passive white frames preferred by the minimalist aesthetic.

In a particularly precious moment, Strassman converted the corner diagonally to the right of the entrance into an intimate, domestic space, where a large, comfy armchair sat surrounded by an array of smaller-format photographs. Here, one felt as though he or she had entered into a grandparent’s living room, where family portraits lined the walls of a cozy space.

“Star Wars,” one of the few photographs taken outside of a domestic setting, is a visually compelling shot taken in a dorm room with walls were plastered, floor to ceiling, with photographs. Here, the importance of the individual picture was subordinated to a kind of memory mosaic constructed by the resident of the room. To the college audience, the scene was a familiar, resonating with our desire to make the alien, sterile space of the college dorm into something more than that: a home filled with the faces our of parents, high-school friends, childhood homes, personal triumphs, lovers and pets.

Some photographs showed men and women from a different era — parents getting married in the ’70s, decked out in long white flowing gowns and brown suede pants with paisley embroidering; photos taken in a photo booth with big ’80s hair and youthful smiles.

Although some photographs were more successful than others, overall Strassman crafted an intensely sensitive, personal show, treating viewers to a nostalgic stroll down the proverbial memory lane. Strassman’s technical skills and mastery of the medium were made clear especially through her sensitive approach to focus, softening it in places and sharpening it in others to heighten the emotive effect of her images, thoughtfully emphasizing particular images within the composition.

Rather than pretend at an objective truth, Strassman did just the opposite, freely admitting to the subjectivity of her content. “These images are as narrative as they are documentary,” her statement concludes. “They depict how people choose to remember.”