Work by Concord Academy alumnae/i in the Origin Stories exhibition at the Concord Free Public Library, including a recent photograph from the Gowanus Wild series by Miska Draskoczy ’94 at top right.
The gallery on the second floor of the Concord Free Public Library is currently displaying recent and retrospective work from 22 Concord Academy alumnae/i, all of whom were students in CA’s photography program and now work in creative professions. “With this show, I wanted to celebrate the idea that being an artist and going into the arts are viable and responsible things to do,” says Cynthia Katz, who has taught photography at Concord Academy for 33 years. In creating the exhibition, Origin Stories, she reached out to former students to learn about what they do now and the professional practices they embrace. The exhibition pairs photographs and books that these alumnae/i created while CA students with recent pieces, from landscape and portrait photography to paintings, mixed media prints, architectural renderings, film stills, and more.
Most alumnae/i who studied photography at CA haven’t gone on to become professional photographers, though a select number of them who have are represented on the gallery’s walls. Also included are painters and sculptors, interdisciplinary artists, filmmakers, communications professionals, architects, as well as a programmer, gallery director, and graphic designer and art director, among others. Their careers have all been enriched by the practice of learning to make pictures, and to look at them critically.
In her classes, Katz focuses on cultivating what she calls “thinking photographers, critical thinkers about images and the stories they tell.” There’s a clear progression through the photography courses at CA. Beginning students situate themselves within the history of photography. They learn how to look at images and take the lead in noticing while learning the language of the art form. As students progress into intermediate and then upper levels, they experiment, refine their craft and vision, and learn new ways of thinking about pictures and new methods for making them. More advanced students create self-defined projects to pursue. Throughout, there’s a focus on process, giving attention to others’ work as well as self-assessment, and active participation in the community in the photography lab. “The goal is always for students to discover their voices as photographers,” Katz says. “I hope my enthusiasm spurs my students on, just as their excitement and discoveries affirm my work with them.”
Student work and a photograph from a recent series by Lee Fearnside ’92.
Retrospective and current work by artist Erin Diebboll ’02.
“We talked so much in those classes — about looking and seeing, about how we made photographs not shot them, about how images were ideas,” says Lee Fearnside ’92, who went on to earn her MFA in photography at the Rhode Island School of Design. In her Photo 3 class at CA, she felt empowered to come out by presenting a series of images of herself as a child superimposed with homophobic statements. Those images are included in the Origin Stories exhibition, as is a recent photograph from a series examining scars as traces of history, food systems, gentrification, and the exploitation of rural America. “What I first learned in that basement classroom about images, and about people and community, has become a central part of my life,” Fearnside says.
Miska Draskoczy ’94 is similarly fascinated, as he describes in his artist statement, by “the overlap of man-made infrastructure and activities with the natural world.” The exhibition features a piece from his project Gowanus Wild, an exploration of the contaminated industrial neighborhood in Brooklyn where he lives. “I believe that our desire to connect with wilderness is a primal force in constant search of outlets, and has less to do with finding pristine vistas and more with awakening to our surroundings, however distraught they may be,” he says.
New York-based artist Erin Diebboll ’02 recalls being challenged to consider precisely what constitutes a book in a bookmaking class she took at CA. “I answered that the unfolding boxes, the shrine, the peepshow,” she says, “were all containers, holding together an archive or collection of ideas just as a book does.” Today she creates large-scale drawings that map familiar spaces from memory — each drawing depicts a house, laid out in such a way that everything is visible, interior and exterior. Most recently, she participated in Container Residency 01, traveling aboard a container ship across the Pacific Ocean. “I am still thinking about containers and archives,” she says. “A house is just a bigger box with a larger collection of contents to organize.”
Work by CA alumnae/i in the Origin Stories exhibition at the Concord Free Public Library.
Photography by Zandy Mangold ’92 and work by painter Nora Lehmann ’95.
Emmy-nominated documentary filmmaker Sally Rubin ’95, whose films have been broadcast on PBS and the Independent Lens series nationally, says her involvement in the photography and film programs while at CA was “hugely influential” to her career. She credits Katz and the photography program for “helping foster a visual eye towards the world” and, most importantly, she says in her artist statement, “for teaching her that her voice mattered at a time when, as a teenage girl, that was an invaluable lesson to learn.”
Kevin Ting ’08, now director of photography and camera operator for three shows for Animal Planet, took as many photography classes at CA as he could. In his final semester, he did a project on patterns in nature. “I found subjects as close as the moss in my backyard, all the way to the folded hills in Death Valley National Park in Nevada,” he says. But majoring in computer science in college, he assumed that photography would continue as a hobby. He kept a foot in both worlds, then in 2014 decided to study documentary photography at the Salt Institute in Portland, Maine. There, he was introduced to video production and new media, and he seized an opportunity that set him on his current career path. He says that while on vacation at Death Valley in 2007, “I never would have imagined that I would be back in Nevada over a decade later, living on the road, turning my passion into a career.”
As Katz reflects on these and other statements from CA alumnae/i represented in the show, she notes that much of the recent work links back to the questions these artists were asking themselves as students in their work up to 20 or 25 years ago. And, she says, “It was so affirming to read in the reflections these former students of mine sent that what happens in the photo lab is important, to read about kids learning to trust their instincts and gain confidence in themselves, not just as image-makers but as young people whose voices are valuable.”
Photography by Kevin Ting ’08.
Photography by Melody Ko ’89, photographer and marketing communications professional, (left) and Mette Aamodt ’92, co-founder and CEO of Aamodt/Plum Architects and a design activist, co-founder of the Slow Space movement.
Origin Stories features work by Melody Ko ’89, Mette Aamodt ’92, Lee Berresford ’92, Lee Fearnside ’92, Zandy Mangold ’92, Miska Draskoczy ’94, Eunice Hurd ’94, Nora Lehmann ’95, Sally Rubin ’95, Gabe Greenberg ’98, Rob Seward ’98, Rachel Barrett ’99, Maggie Gates ’99, Laura Twichell ’01, Erin Diebboll ’02, Liam Turkle ’03, Julian Joslin ’05, Collin Lafleche ’05, Aaron Freedman ’08, Kevin Ting ’08, Becca Imrich ’10, and Lily Xie ’12.
The exhibition in the Concord Free Public Library began on February 1 and will remain up through noon on February 29. On February 22, a public reception was held at the library, gathering alumnae/i, parents of alumnae/i, students, faculty, and former faculty.