The Oberlin Review
<< Front page Arts November 4, 2005

Student photo exhibition captures stunning views
Photo exhibition takes Fisher from a dark room
Head of flowers: Ebbesen poses males with flowers for her photography presentation (detail).
Images of Ohio: Ray captures desolate images of areas surrounding Oberlin for her collection of works (detail).

Junior art students Mika Ebbesen, Hannah Fenley, Jennifer Ray and alumnus John Hensel (OC ’05) opened a mixed bag show sponsored by the Oberlin Photography Co-op in Fisher Hall this past Thursday, Nov. 3.

While the show did not exhibit a clear theme, the works by each individual artist were able to visually titillate and challenge the viewers’ ways of looking at nature, the desolate Ohio landscape and facets of the human form.

“Hybrid,” a series of photographs produced from handmade slides by Fenley, shows magnificently-colored images of insects and parts of plants. To construct the slides for these images, Fenley pressed the bugs and plant parts onto single slides, placed them into an enlarger and then printed directly onto photographic paper.

This process is a technique similar to the photogram, where Fenley is able to produce images without using a camera. The photograms show a likeness to 19th century photographic examinations of specimens. No two images of Fenley’s work are ever the same due to the unstable nature of the slide.

The beauty of her work lies in giving the viewer a microscopic vision of layers and brilliant inverted colors. Through the process of being made into slides, the look of each insect or plant part changes drastically, morphing into a completely distinct entity.

Ray’s series, “Limbo,” is images of the desolate Ohio landscape set in fantastical, eerie colors. Driving out of Oberlin and into the countryside during the late hours of the night, Ray sat with the shutter of her 4x5 camera open for anywhere from 16 minutes to seven hours at a time. These long exposures usually produce super-saturated colors at night, which is a sharp change from the normally-drab daytime colors.

Ray’s quest for adventure and danger led her to go out on these evening journeys, and the risks paid off in the form of stunning images. When asked how she was able to produce such fascinating colors, Ray said that “most of [her] work happened by chance.”

It is this combination of chance and dedication to photography that has allowed Ray to produce such beautiful images. The combination of vibrant colors in a vacant and eerie setting give a new perspective on the world outside of Oberlin’s tightly enclosed liberal bubble.

Ebbesen’s “Uh-Hu,” a body of photographs in two series, seeks to explore two separate themes. The first series, “HanaOtoko,” “FlowerBoy” in Japanese, investigates and attempts to subvert ideas of male cultural gender expectations by placing flowers behind male models’ ears or covering their faces with flowers. Making a direct reference to Dali’s surrealist images of women with flowers in front of their faces, she harkens to the idea that flowers are usually associated with female sexuality.

The idea of subverting these cultural gender expectations falls short, because the men do seem “feminized” by the flowers. The images themselves are beautifully printed and required dedication on the artist’s part, but the concept of subverting the association with the feminine does not show through.

In her female series, “Bleeding Mountain,” Ebbesen again picks a wide range of models for her photographs. Across their backs she sprinkles drops of water and then places a peacock feather running downwards. The positioning of the women feels serene and proud, although their strained necks leave the viewer feeling a bit uncomfortable.

Ebbesen’s interest lies in this challenge of working with bodies and communication. Indeed, the photographs are printed extremely well, and she succeeds in utilizing the bodies to her satisfaction. Still, it is impossible to separate the bodies from their skin colors, and it will soon come to the viewer’s attention that Ebbesen does not wish to interrogate any issues related to racial difference in her work.

The last installment of the oddly-curated show is work by Hensel. He exhibits 17 extremely close-up photographs of singular eyes. His interest in making this work lies predominantly in the exploration of photographic processes.

In order to obtain such extreme close-ups, he attached an overhead projector lens with wire to a 4x5 camera and masked the lens so as to isolate just enough room for the eye. He then asked students to lie down with their heads on a pillow and then allow him to photograph their eyes very closely. His decision to focus on the eye lies in his belief that it is truly the most interesting part of the human body. The result is a frighteningly close look at a fragile, vulnerable organ.

The show opened on Thursday, Nov. 3 in Fisher Hall and runs through Tuesday, Nov. 8.


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