Tech Photo Gallery
Capturing the Art of Ordinary EventsBy Wally Holland
The air conditioner in the Wiesner Art Gallery rattles noisily and the concert band is rehearsing somewhere nearby and a problem set is being completed in the black-leather comfort of the Stratton Lounge, so there’s no way to take in the photographs in silence. The urge is there: to take deep slow breaths and mouth the word “lovely” or the word “remember.” Something about a gallery setting seems to demand rapt attention, a kind of strictly-enforced seriousness handed down from somewhere above.
There is real beauty here, clarity and honesty and motion: a photo of Ralph Nader draws your gaze in a narrowing spiral to meet his eyes, dark and intense; a baseball player caught on film becomes a steel spring, a whirl of unwinding noisy color; a student’s profile flickers in and out of sight, outlined in slow half-light, hardly there at all.
What else to say, really? How does a person -- much less a fearsome, fallible newspaper critic -- evaluate this work, this atmosphere? There are memories of a past year here, to be sure. Fragments of a story are told, caught in a flash, a fraction of a second -- moments which define events which, set beside one another, form a narrative. And yet these are news photographs, only ‘noteworthy’ events, names which feel removed from us by virtue of their familiarity. More engaging are the nearby sports photographs, the arts photos: capturing a more consumed motion, rescuing remembered performances from the past. The detachment of viewing Big Events through a lens is, curiously, transformed into intimacy when the events are as simple as a soccer match, a stage play, a dance.
The setting begs critical commentary, and resists it: it seems easier to sink into reverie, to chatter about this or that moment last year. The pictures are props and starting points. Some photographs fail, though it’s unclear why: perhaps they’re forcing a viewpoint onto the moments they seek to capture, rather than letting the moments dictate their own memories. Some seem contrived, others succeed through contrivance; one photo elicits a sigh and its neighbor a derisive laugh. The Tech Gallery is largely a collection of art photos, self-consciously separate from the news photos and attaining a strange aloofness as a result. The exhibit doesn’t whirl through a spectrum; it is posted in chapter -- like a newspaper. If anything, the gallery reminds you of a daily paper’s function: to report facts, not feelings. The posed Tech Gallery photos stand uncomfortably apart as a result.
But it’s no matter: an effect is achieved, a journey is taken. The Tech’s photography exhibit shows MIT life through a certain lens, that of the news photographer, and calls forth memories and understanding of a kind. It is a creation, a try at art even, and is owed a certain respect, a visit -- even if silence is nowhere to be found. These photos are to be seen with the noise of daily life around them: the sound of their creation.