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Monday, October 18, 2021

Breaking out of societal chains, photographs bring light to sub-cultures

Pictures of derelicts, vagabonds and punks run amok in the Richard L. Nelson Gallery exhibit “Wonderers.” Guest curated by Matthias Geiger, the show features seven different photographers as they capture the roving, wandering and uprooted existence that many are living to this day.

Riding on the border of society, these nomadic cultures have always filled Geiger with a sense of awe.

“I’ve always been interested at what goes on the edge of culture,” Geiger said. “There are many interesting, creative things happening at that edge, where no societal pressure of pleasing anybody. That space is open to the outcome of experimentation.”

The artists include Abby Banks, Cutter Collective, Richard Gilles, Justine Kurland, Joel Sternfeld and Kyer Wiltshire. They participate in the modes of living that are portrayed in their photographs or, at least, are very informed in research of their subjects’ experiences.

“[The show is] colorful and very much alive.” Geiger said. “There are two slideshows, and it creates an atmosphere that you can get immersed in.”

“Wonderers” takes the viewer on a visual journey through America’s subcultures. One will find punk rock houses shot by Abby Banks, where the rent is cheap and many people of like interest are crammed into a tiny space. You will also find train-hopping hobos, whose nomadic lifestyle had inspired photographer Justine Kurland to pack up her life into a car and travel alongside them for two years.

“Kirland and Banks are really pros in the terms of technical chops,” said Renny Pritkin, director of the Richard L. Nelson Gallery and Fine Arts Collection. “But the show isn’t about professionalism; all of the artists are really talented.”

Richard Gilles’ “Almost Homeless” depicts images of mobile homes and cars filled with personal possessions that are sitting right on the edge of society, noticed only in passing. Utopian and eco-communities including the co-housing project on N Street are the models of alternative lifestyle in the photo essays portrayed by Joel Sternfeld.

Cutter Collective and their publication Cutter Photozine wander neighborhoods where they encounter and photograph queer culture, tattooed youth and other personal images. The Tribal Revival, Kyer Wiltshire’s photos, focuses on the festival culture where images show neo-hippies in trance-like dance states and free love mentality.

“More students than usual have been coming,” Pritikin said. “I think the theme is really attractive to them.”

The exhibit opened to a large crowd on Oct. 7, over 200 people attended the opening.

For Geiger this project has been a long time in the making. It started well over a year ago when Pritikin approached him about guest curating a photography show. The two had previously worked together on putting together “Joint Ventures,” a large-scale photography project four years ago. Geiger, an assistant professor of art and art history, accepted right away.

“[Pritikin] invited me to, this time, curate my own show.” Geiger said. “For me it was important that after seeing this show people begin to question if they really need all the stuff that they have.”

A lot of time went into going through catalogues and picking out what photos would flow cohesively together yet still remain diverse.

“The show is fun. And it gives you a different perspective on how the world is,” said Pamela Orebaugh, senior English and film studies double major. “It’s a nice change for the gallery.”

Coincidentally, all of this year’s shows will have guest curators.

“If I curated every show the gallery would get boring.” Pritkin said. “I have a lot of respect for Matthias for taking on this project. The photos are really interesting and they show some really unusual groups.”

“Wonderers” is presented in color and in black and white, and shows society questioned as a whole. The show will be presented in the gallery until Dec.12.

“This is so different from normal life that it strikes my imagination” said Katrina Wong, assistant to Renny Pritikin.

The Richard L. Nelson Gallery, located inside the Art Building is free and open to the public from 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. on Monday through Thursday, by appointment on Friday, and 2:00 to 5:00 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.

This is the last show that will be presented in this gallery before its move to their new location in the University Club.

“These photos and cultures are very much alive,” Geiger said, “you find a sense of wonderment here. You can look at the world and discover unconventional and creative ways of being.”

ANASTASIA ZHURAVLEVA can be reached at arts@theaggie.org.

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