Laurel Bradley, Director of Exhibitions, Carleton College
To everyone who has attended Carleton, and to many visitors, the college on the Cannon River is a special place. In 2002, the Carleton College Art Gallery sought to understand the campus as place by inviting three artists to interpret the campus photographically. The resulting 36 images by Chris Faust, Beth Dow and Alec Soth became Vantage Points, a special exhibition and catalogue. The images were the focus of Carleton’s 2002-03 calendar and can still be viewed on the Vantage Points exhibition's Web site.
Now we offer Vantage Points II, a new set of images by three equally talented Minnesota photographers, with the lens pointed toward Carleton’s core population – its students. Photographers Wing Young Huie, Xavier Tavera and Angela Strassheim present their visions of Carleton in black and white and color prints that showcase students posing for portraits, pausing for the camera in the midst of a meeting or a game, or simply allowing themselves to be captured while they ignore the voyeuristic instrument in their midst. The 2008 calendar presents about half of the commissioned works, exhibited all together in the Carleton Art Gallery during Fall 2007. Images from Vantage Points and Vantage Points II are now part of the Carleton College Art Collection.
Although the project description was intentionally broad, all three photographers fastened on the same general topic of unofficial and official student groups and the rituals that define Carleton’s student culture. To gain access to students outside their classroom pursuits required diligence, willingness to follow-up word-of-mouth contacts, and a sense of adventure. Late-night proclivities were helpful because student life becomes most animated in the hours around midnight.
Wing Young Huie (b. 1955 Duluth, Minn.) has been a visual sociologist in projects charting the changing cultural landscape of his home state of Minnesota. These include Frogtown: Photographs and Conversation in an Urban Neighborhood (1996) and Lake Street USA (2001). For Vantage Points II, he proposed investigating Carleton’s character through a process of engagement—asking questions, hanging out, and wandering around. In search of the College’s fabled quirkiness, Huie recorded moments of goofy fun, such as a hot tub installed for end-of-term celebrations and croquet on not-so-firm ice. Trolling hallways, he also encountered profoundly ordinary moments of college life, including a casual after-shower conversation in a co-ed dormitory. His attention to student rituals sometimes yielded pictures in which a student’s presence is implied rather than directly depicted. These include the flower left in a student mailbox on a random Friday and the plastic cow secreted on a ledge in the Gould Library, invoking Northfield’s motto of “cows, colleges, and contentment.” Photos | Essay
Xavier Tavera (b 1971, Mexico City) a fairly recent arrival in Minnesota, established his reputation as a photographer with arresting portraits of such subjects as Hispanic punk rockers, extreme fighters, and transvestites. In his large color images, members of specific subcultures loom large, even vaguely threatening, against plain backgrounds. Tavera’s aim at Carleton was to create a collective portrait in which particular students embody their own unique identities but also carry markers of myriad group interests and pursuits. “Throughout our lives, we reinvent ourselves several times. One of these opportunities for reinvention is during our path through college,” he says. Tavera found photographic possibilities in one-time events including paintball and Cuts for Cancer, and at clubs from Robotics to Fencing to the Latin American Student Organization. He pulled aside students involved in sports and drama to photograph them one by one. Their visible isolation in the photographs belies the group nature of these cooperative activities. Though Tavera’s figures are very still, each exudes a powerful presence resonant with the dynamic process of exploring and becoming. Photos | Essay
Angela Strassheim (b 1969, Bloomfield, Iowa), received an MFA at Yale after working as a forensic photographer. She is gathering acclaim for her representations of the Midwest and the middle-class American family life. Her Left Behind series enshrines the ritual orderliness and subtle tension that shape family life in the born-again Christian families like the one from which she comes. After spending the summer of 2006 photographing mostly teenage girls, Strassheim welcomed the opportunity to work with subjects in the next stage of development by covering college life. “I work intuitively and like to spend time looking before photographing,” she says. She passed many days and nights on campus observing classes and sports teams, finding sympathetic groups identified with off-campus houses, and getting to know individuals and members of not-quite official clubs — notably the surreptitious streakers. Strassheim, who observes and then restages each scene with camera, lights, and assistants to make photographs, intensifies the dramatic content of life at Carleton. Her lusciously colored images confer filmic qualities on the basketball court huddle, a student absorbed in a private moment before a formal dance, or a photo critique in Boliou. Photos | Essay