Subject/Object: A photography exhibit at St. Lawrence University

Art teacher and photographer Sarah Knobel talks about images in the Subject/Object exhibition

There’s a photography exhibit at St. Lawrence University right now. It includes contemporary works and older photos from the university’s collection. Art teacher and photographer Sarah Knobel curated the exhibit. She says it aims to challenge how we define portraits of people versus still lifes. Celia Clarke walked through the exhibit with Knobel, who began by explaining why she presented the exhibit the way she did.

SARAH KNOBEL: I didn’t just want to show the photographs alone, I thought it would be interesting to pair them with contemporary photographers, and have a dialogue between them. Many of the works in the collection date from the 30s, 40s and 50s, a few from the 90s. But it’s all really part of this modernist movement. So kind of seeing how things have changed.

CELIA CLARKE: One of the things that struck me about this exhibition is that things are not all the same size, and they are not all aligned. So you walk around looking at everything at about eye level, but some things are up, some are down, you know, like knee level, almost. And I wondered why?

BUTTON : So it’s almost like I’m creating a dialogue between them, and seeing them almost as a bigger composition, where you look at them and move around like you would with a single image. So you know, I was really thinking about positioning, where you are I would go from one to the other.

All intent with that, and if you even notice, when I’m talking about different works, I’m talking about multiple works at the same time. So I feel like I want people to look at not just individual images, but multiple ones and how they react to each other and how the meanings of different images change when you see them paired with other works.

CLARK: There was this image that just blew my mind. So if I could, I want you to talk about this image with a red background that has a dot at the top but what’s really happening on the rest.

Milk Crown by Harold Edgerton, one of the images in the exhibition.

Milk Crown by Harold Edgerton, one of the images in the exhibition.

BUTTON : So it’s called Harold Edgerton’s Milk Crown. And if you know the work of Harold Edgerton, this is the most iconic image. I was actually really impressed to see this in the St. Lawrence University collection, I was like, ‘Wow, this is something I’ve seen a lot and just saw in person .’ And the colors are so rich.

So it’s very abstract in the sense that we have a kind of darker gradient at the top and then we see a line. And it’s a rich red. And then you have a drop that you see coming down. Almost like a moon in the sky and then you see too, which was another drop of milk, but it becomes a crown because we see it when it hits the plate in the way it comes out. It looks like a physical crown with like this circle and all these [spikes] —- I don’t know, there’s so much movement, and it’s so concrete, almost so physical that it almost looks like a sculpture. But in fact it was only a moment, a drop of milk.

CLARK: And he was able to do it thanks to, of which he is the inventor?

BUTTON : Yes, he is the inventor of stroboscopes, which if you don’t know what that means, flash. So really, really create this fast light source to really stop the action and time.

CLARK: This one to me is so fun and wild because the image is moving. It’s completely digital. And so it’s sort of but he’s using ancient Greek or ancient Roman sculpture that he keeps showing fragments of and repeating at this very rapid rate.

It’s so cool because it’s the oldest, one of the oldest kinds of things we call art. But he transformed it with the most modern technology we have.

BUTTON : Law? So the one right next to Milk Crown is actually an animated GIF. So it’s constantly moving. So maybe the opposite of that stillness that we see in Harold Edgerton, but it’s called Still as Stone. It’s by Nico Krijno. He’s a South African photographer that I’ve always really liked.

Looking at his work, he really challenges this visual language of photography. And you know, a lot of that may be performance or really use of that same game that we saw in Harold Edgerton who likes to challenge our ideas about, you know, what we see, what is reality.

CLARK: Yeah, I think that’s the one that’s hard to describe in words, and you have to come to the exhibition to see it, and see how you feel about it. Sarah Knobel, thank you so much for taking me on this fun ride around the gallery.

BUTTON : Thank you. It’s Celia. It was awesome.

Tracey L. Sweeney