Attraction/Repulsion: Photographs from St. Lawrence University's Permanent Collection

Curated by Josie Emmanuele '18

Monday, March 5 to Saturday, June 2, 2018

Curator's talk, Monday, March 26, at 4:30 p.m., in the gallery

Even at a young age, I developed an interest in stories and imagery that made me feel uncomfortable.  My grandfather often told me ghost tales and war stories, and now I consistently gravitate toward crime thriller dramas on television. This attraction to mysterious or disturbing imagery revealed itself to me in photography classes at St. Lawrence University.  I began to take photographs and look at images that were well composed but dark in terms of mood or content, such as crime scenes, silhouetted shadowy figures, and eerie dreamlike landscapes.

photograph of tooth floating in background
Adrienne Salinger, Tooth #22, 1994, chromogenic color print, SLU 95.17

As a photography student, I had the opportunity to review St. Lawrence’s permanent collection on multiple occasions. I realized through this process I was also drawn to images that were beautiful but somewhat creepy. The first images I reacted to were Adrienne Salinger’s Tooth #22 and Sally Mann’s untitled photograph from her Southern Landscape series.  Both make me uncomfortable in different ways.  The first image is more unsettling because a whole human tooth sits exposed on a black background, isolated from its intimate, natural environment.  On the other hand, Mann’s dream-like landscape evokes a more nostalgic mood using blurred sky and forestry.

Expanding upon these two examples, the hallway exhibition provides a visual and conceptual spectrum of images ranging between attraction and repulsion at one end of the gallery to the other, making the viewer more comfortable or uncomfortable as his or her journey continues in either direction. Some images, taken alone, convey immediate reactions, while others take time to digest.  Context can play a large role in interpreting many of the images, in that once a viewer becomes aware of an image’s title or background, the response may vary.  Traveling down the hallway gallery from the Gulick Theatre lobby, one first encounters the signature Sally Mann photograph, along with Berenice Abbott’s Grass Roots and Richard Margolis’s eerie park scene #140 Stratford, September 4, 1977.

By contrast, at the other end of the hallway, Robert Doisneau’s L'Innocent depicts a severed cow head that appears to be floating in space.  Even more disturbing are Graham Ovendon’s two photographically derived prints depicting young girls, an example of how context changes everything.  With research, one can learn that the artist was accused of indecent assault against children, something that undoubtedly affects the viewer’s relationship to the artworks.  The idea of “knowing” and “not knowing” context and background also comes into play, which can alter the overall feeling of the photographs in the exhibition. - Josie Emmanuele '18

man turning away from the camera
Ralph Gibson, untitled gelatin silver print from the Chiaroscuro portfolio, SLU 85.1.4

Curator's biography

Josie is currently (2018) a senior at St. Lawrence University, majoring in Biology on the Pre-Health track and minoring in Art & Art History.  Growing up in a rural area in central New York, she was inspired by and readily enjoyed eerie, unsettling things that made her and others jump, including books at the time such as Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark and today’s horror films/books such as Stephen King’s IT.  As a Biology teaching assistant, she also works in the science writing center.  Josie is a member of the Art & Art History Honorary Society, the Epsilon Kappa chapter of Chi Omega, and the SLU women’s rugby team; she is also the former president/vice president of the Pre-Health Club on campus.