By: Hailley Fargo
In May 2017, Hailley Fargo (Student Engagement Librarian) and Rachel White (Information Resources and Services Supervisor-Manager) began the process of putting together a Libraries’ exhibit. Our motivation to create an exhibit came from the Penn State Reads 2017 selection, It’s What I Do by Lynsey Addario.
Based on our previous experiences and areas of expertise, we thought creating an exhibit would be a great way to explore some themes found in Addario’s memoir, along with leveraging the great selection of resources the library has on these topics. To learn a little more about how this exhibit came to be, Rachel and Hailley had a little conversation below. We hope you’ll stop by the Diversity Studies Room and see the exhibit (it’s up until August 2018).
Hailley: Rachel, can you tell me a little bit more about why you here interested in creating this exhibit?
Rachel: Of Course! It’s sort of two-fold. A good portion of the men on both sides of my family have had military experience. When my mom went back to school to get her Masters in Counseling she did some work with war veterans so in a sense I’ve always been interested in war and conflict. I am fascinated by the impact that war has on people and the environment. My undergraduate degree from Ithaca College (Ithaca, NY) is in Photography. My
sophomore year, I think it was, I did a photojournalist spread on veterans who frequented the local VFW. Spring of my junior year was spent in Ireland studying Peace and Conflict issues. That culminated in doing an independent study on the visual elements left over from the Northern Irish Troubles. A few years later, I completed my Masters in Textual and Visual Studies from Trinity College, Dublin. My thesis explored the relationship between text and image through the lens of war photography. I could elaborate on it, but once you get me started, it’s hard to get me to stop. Given all that background, when we started discussing the book It’s What I Do, the exhibit felt like a natural project to do. It combines many things that I am interested in, war, photography, and books!
Hailley: Yes, I love how jazzed you get when you talk about war and photography! If you haven’t had a conversation with Rachel about this topic, you definitely should! And when we were discussing the Penn State Reads book, it seemed like a great choice to combine forces and really leverage your expertise in creating this exhibit. And from those initial discussions, you’ve always had a vision for what Depth of Field could be. Rachel, can you share that vision with us?
Rachel: Uh, it’s probably a bit of a lofty vision, but I wanted to create the space for viewers to become what Ranciere calls “the emancipated spectator.” Basically, the creator of the artwork presents material in such a way that the viewer has to literally pause in order to digest everything that is going on within the image/exhibit. The viewer learns to ask questions and
not blindly stare at a photograph.
Hailley: You know I love a good old lofty vision. And it has been so exciting see this exhibit come to life since those initial conversations. To see that visual literacy in action, you need to check out the horseshoe cases up in the Diversity Studies Room. It really takes you through the process of how we digest images. I also remember in some of those initial conversations the question was posed to us, “Does the library have resources to support the making of this exhibit?” What was the final answer on that question?
Rachel: The library is jammed packed with resources. Discussing war falls under many disciplines photography, history, geography, economics, culture, gender studies etc so really the library is in many ways the perfect location for this exhibit.
Hailley: Yeah I don’t think there was ever a moment where we said, “Oh man, we just don’t have enough material.” And the exhibit space is great in the fact that we have a whole bookshelf full of resources that you and other viewers can check out if you want to learn more about what you see and read about in the cases.
Rachel: Absolutely. And don’t forget we also have two kiosks in the space, with more online resources for viewers to check out.
Hailley: Great point! We really get the opportunity to feature elements of visual literacy and some great war photographers, in and out of the cases. Now Rachel, who would be your favorite war photographer and why?
Rachel: Ha, that’s like asking what’s your favorite movie or band. I like many photographers and for many reasons. I’ll say that one of my favorite photographers is Dan Eldon. Unfortunately, he was stoned to death in Somalia in the early 90s. He was only twenty-three when he was killed, but he left behind a large amount of black journals full of artwork. His family published
some of the work from his journals and it’s just really interesting to his progression as an artist/photographer.
Hailley: Dan sounds like a fascinating photographer. Rachel, I always feel like I learn something new about war photography when I hang out with you. And I know the visitors to Depth of Field will also walk away with a lot to think about. If there was just one thing you wanted every visitor to walk away with, what would that thing be?
Rachel: I want visitors to be more conscious of the world they live in. Let’s be honest, how many times a day are we plugged into social media? I’m guilty of the vast amount of time I spend on Instagram. Collectively, we get sucked into this social media reality that is not real. I want people to begin to ask questions when they see an image. An image doesn’t exist all by itself.
Hailley: Yeah I totally agree. Personally, I spend a lot of time on Twitter…whoops! I’ve enjoyed working on this exhibit with you because it has really forced me to think about how images and text work together so thanks for making me stop and think. I guess my final question for you is why do you think Depth of Field is important to our target audience for this
exhibit, undergraduate Penn State students?
Rachel: State College is a bit of bubble and hopefully this exhibit pops that bubble a little. I would say that the majority of the incoming freshman class was born in 2000. They have grown up in a post 9/11 world which depending on who you talk to means different things. There have been more violent conflicts, domestic and international, than I can count since 9/11. Collectively, we need to acknowledge the pain and destruction that we have seen and figure out how to rebuild the human connection.
Hailley: It fascinates me that the students we work with probably don’t have that crystal clear moment of where they were when 9/11 happened (which I know us older folks have). I know that we talked a lot about this idea while we were building this exhibit and that helped us decide what to include and what context we needed to provide.
Well thanks Rachel for sharing your insight. I had a blast collaborating with
you and I hope many of our colleagues have the opportunity to check out this