Yalies sick of hearing about the cliche Yale summer can take a breather this weekend and enjoy a silent exhibition by a group of underclassmen who put their cameras where their mouths said they were.
Several Davenport underclassmen culled the better photographs from their summer adventures and blew them up as much as the resolution would allow to create the Davenport Photo Group’s first show of the year, now at the Davenport Art Gallery. Although the show has its highlights, it comes across as amateur and sparse with a deep vibrancy waiting to be mined.
The sterile, classroom-like walls of the art gallery play a fitting host to the works that seem to answer the elementary school essay prompt, “What I Did With My Summer.” An excellent filler for the otherwise impotent space, photography’s crisp edges and clarity of form works well off the almost-too-white renovated Davenport walls. The number of works in this collection seems thin, however, with the walls overwhelming rather than highlighting the collection.
One of the joys in this exhibit is the pure variety found in the group’s work. From Ecuador to Rome to Beijing, these photos provide a veritable tour de force of popular Yale destinations. The character of each place comes through in each mini collection, especially in the work of Lauren Russell ’09, who profiled a Seattle fish market. Her eye for the humanity and individuality of each worker creates an almost narrative feel in her photos. The grainy look to the series also provides a glimpse into the visceral experience and character of the market.
The same effect detracts from the experience in other pieces, where the less fine-tuned resolution destroys the magnificence of the composition. Especially in the harsh white of the gallery, the sharply defined details become much more visually attractive. The colors appear to pop more vividly and create a more enticing experience for the viewer.
The stand-out piece both for clarity and content is a scene captured by Han Xu ’09, a photography staffer for the News. A man stands a full torso above a crowd entirely bathed in red light, appearing almost to dive off the frame. The remarkable focus extends to the McDonald’s in the background, a detail that fits the composition perfectly in this context.
Each artist’s work is labeled with a single paragraph to describe all their works. However, when the collection spans two continents, as in Xu’s work, the specifics for each photo are more difficult to discern. Also increasing the anonymity of each work’s character, none of the works appear to be titled, which could be done purposefully but seems to be without direction in this case.
With members less than halfway into their careers at Yale, the Davenport Photo Group has time to continue developing their skills and artistic styles. The group could have a very promising future in the underappreciated visual art culture at Yale if they grow consistently. The few works that stand out for composition and attention to detail could be a sign of things to come, or merely shots in the dark.
One of the more miraculous photos of the exhibit is a ceiling view of the Pantheon in Rome by Emma Chapman ’09. The sun has arrived at just the right moment in the oculus, creating a ball of light quite unlike the normal pattern of squares in the ceiling. It’s in these transcendent moments that the group’s work asserts photography’s unique place in the visual arts, both as mirror and as lens.