Budding Photographers: Local high schoolers exhibit at the Hyde Park Art Center

Untitled by Donnell Block; courtesy of HPAC

Untitled by Donnell Block; courtesy of HPAC

The Hyde Park Art Center celebrated its third annual ”Selected Shots From Young Photographers” exhibition last Sunday. As in the past, it was strong in both idea and execution, and it should come as no surprise that HPAC plans to invite Kenwood Academy’s next crop of high school photographers back next year. Curated by Kenwood Academy photography teacher Benjamin Jaffe, the photographs on display demonstrate the students’ unique perspectives on the objects and environments around them.

Some pieces, like Donnell Bullock’s, demonstrate a real sensibility for formal composition. His photographs are anything but impulsive snapshots–instead, there is a clear attempt to abstract concrete objects. His photograph “Axe Knobs” best embodies this. The image has the appearance of a negative; the colors are distorted and certain details accentuated to the point where the viewer doesn’t even realize he is looking at safety locks. The abstraction of mundane objects, or their capture in a way that mimics the first impression of seeing them, are recurring themes in the exhibit. Christopher Colvin’s approach favors close-ups. His pictures ”Pop Tab” and especially “Tail Lights” both focus on a particular detail of a larger object, reminding us that our first impression is rarely a complete one. In addition, there are the purely aesthetic qualities of red lights and melted snow, never before so visually interesting as in Colvin’s photography.

Collin isn’t the only photographer inspired by Chicago’s weather, but others explore the human landscape at the same time as the snow and ice. Frequently, the students have been eyewitnesses to the more jarring circumstances of human life. Justine Jackson’s “Suicide by Train” is as wrenching and disturbing as its title implies: a mangled face and body lies on the tracks. The victim’s body is cut in half, her bloodied torso separated from her lower body. An extremely personal and tragic picture, “Suicide by Train” has left HPAC administrators wary of its presence among the other photographs. There is a question of ethics: do viewers even have the right to see such a photograph? Some would say that taking a picture of suicide turns a rightfully private event into a painfully public one. Under public scrutiny, its gore capitalized, how does the piece transcend mere shock? Does it really have a place amidst the other visually aesthetic photographs? Depending on the reaction of visitors, especially families with children, the picture may be taken down. But this is unsettling too, suggesting that disturbing realities ought to be brushed out of sight so as to not upset anyone. Brittany Harris’s photographs are similarly evocative in their demonstration of human suffering, albeit in a less graphic manner. They often mix human forms with jewelry and fabrics, as in a picture where a woman’s scarred hand blends with and complements the intricate grooving of the necklace that is wrapped around her wrist and fingers. Harris’s “Don’t Shoot” is more direct: a small girl presses against a door with stickers glued on it. They read “Don’t Shoot / I want to grow up.”

In summing up the show, HPAC’s Director of Exhibitions Allison Peters Quinn affirms, “Because the photographers are all so young, many of the pictures have an aura to them of seeing and experiencing something for the very first time…They see things adults don’t notice anymore.” The photographs themselves–uninhibited, strong, and uncensored–say as much.
Hyde Park Art Center, 5020 S. Cornell Ave. Through June 28. Monday-Thursday, 9am-8pm; Friday-Saturday, 9am-5pm; Sunday, noon-5pm. (773)324-5520. hydeparkart.org