By Keri Hayes
Arizona Daily Wildcat
With an eye for the subtle images of life that shape our characters and thoughts, two women have created the telling photographic work on display at the Center for Creative Photography.
Deborah Willis' "African American Extended Family" and Catherine Wagner's "Home and Other Stories" diverge in composition and style, yet both evoke thoughts in the viewer centered on the arrangement of both familiar and unknown lives. Both exhibitions tell reflective and informative stories.
Willis is presenting her first museum solo exhibition at the CCP, yet her previous accomplishments are exceptional. Willis has worked as an artist, curator and historian for almost 20 years. Her knowledge has had a great impact in the field of African American studies at New York's Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, where she organized exhibits, publications and collections for 12 years.
In "African American Extended Family," Willis combines her family tradition of quiltmaking with her photography skills and knowledge as a cultural historian to produce 15 inspirational stories of African American life and identity.
Willis' pieces vary from joyful to questioning as one depicts young Brazilian girls dancing and paying tribute to their women elders, and another uses archival etchings and slave ads to reproduce Willis' feelings of horror at the restraints used to capture African men, women and children.
Willis' imagery also incorporates memories from her childhood, often using snapshots from her family album combined with her own to create biographies of family members and memoirs of African American life in the 1950s. Each piece is accompanied by a narrative describing its origin and implications.
Describing her work, Willis says, "My images are used to preserve the collective memory of this society and focus on events that appear to be ordinary and horrific."
Wagner's images also speak of the details of people's lives, yet her subjects are not as focused as Willis'. Wagner traveled from California to Massachusetts, photographing the interiors and details of people's homes. The titles of her pieces reveal only the occupants' first names and the particular cities where they are located.
Wagner's work reminds us of how closely connected we are with our homes and the objects we surround ourselves with. Each of Wagner's 34 photographs invites the viewer's mind to wander, creating images of who the dwellers might be.
In conjunction with their current exhibitions, the Center for Creative Photography is presenting a series of programs:
Abigail Van Slyck, assistant professor of architecture, art history and women's studies at UA will present a lecture, "Looking Homeward with Catherine Wagner," Oct. 6 at 5:30 p.m. in the CCP gallery.
Bill Jenkins, associate professor of photographic studies at Arizona State University will speak Oct. 18 at 5:30 p.m.. about Wagner's exhibit in the CCP auditorium.
Jesse Hargrove, assistant dean of African American Student Affairs at UA will present "African American Quilts: Uncovering the Hidden Meaning" Oct. 26 at 5:30 p.m. in the CCP gallery.
The two exhibits will run through Nov. 6. Call the Center for Creative Photography at 621-7968 for more information.
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