Prince’s photography influenced by artistic heritage

Photographer Lily Prince '14 features images from her childhood and other memories. Photo by: Spencer Davis.
Photographer Lily Prince '14 features images from her childhood and other memories. Photo by: Spencer Davis.
Photographer Lily Prince ’14 features images from her childhood and other memories. She says she gained her artistic aspirations from her family. Photo by: Spencer Davis.

When she was around six years old, Alisa Prince ’14 made a life-size mural of her family on a wall inside her house out of crayons. She was never reprimanded by her parents like many children of her age would have been had they pulled a stunt like that.

The photographer, printmaker and Editor-in-Chief of the ALANA Center publication Images explained that it was at this time in her life that she first became deeply attracted to art, and she has pursued it ever since.

“It wasn’t so much a moment when I knew I wanted to be an artist; it was just all I was surrounded by,” Prince shared.

Prince comes from a close-knit family of artist, a support network which has encouraged her to also pursue the arts. Her grandfather, Archy Lasalle, is a well-known photographer and educator who graduated with honors from the Massachusetts College of Art in Photography in 1982.

LaSalle’s photos have appeared in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, DeCordova Museum, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in New York City, the American Center in Paris, Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris and the Museum of Modern Art to name a few. LaSalle frequently travels around the world lecturing on works of art and sharing his craft with the world.

“My family has always been close to me and supportive. I was just born into a family that really valued the arts and so for me art and family have always worked hand-in-hand. In high school, I worked with my grandfather a lot and studied under him. That year I saved up and bought my first camera, a Canon Rebel,” Prince shared.

This idea of family and community is a central element in Prince’s work. Step into her room on campus and you will find black and white photographs of her mother, sisters, aunts and grandparents covering all four walls.

“Memory is a huge part of the work that I do. I’m interested in documenting my life, who I’m with, where I go, the things I get a chance to see and then visualize,” Prince explained. For her senior thesis, Prince is looking at contemporary black photographers as well as black photographers over time and how they have managed to use the medium to uplift the black community by tapping into memory through positive images of African American life.

“I’m working with my thesis advisor Lisa Gail Collins, and drawing from her work as well, to bring my thesis together and consider how representations of black people though photography affect the community as a whole,” Prince explained.

Collins teaches on many topics, including courses on African American visual art and material culture, interdisciplinary African American history, feminist thought and social and cultural movements in the United States of America. She is the author of several scholarly books, such as The Art of History: African American Woman Artists Engage the Past, and Art by African American Artists: Selections from the 20th century.

In her research, Prince is also learning from the likes of Deborah Willis, a world renowned photographer and chair of the Photographic Imaging department at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. Earlier this year, Prince had the opportunity to meet Willis and speak with her about her thesis at Willis’ book talk in the Hudson Valley titled “Envisioning the Emancipation.”

The book retraces and analyzes historical photographs of African American life during and after slavery in order to articulate the representation of black life in circulation then and now.

“She told me when taking photographs to try and think about the presence of the subject and how it’s important,” Prince said in reference to her interactions with Willis.

At Vassar, Prince continues to uphold the tradition of creating a way for people of color any individuals affiliated with the ALANA center to voice a powerful presence on campus.

As the Editor-in-Chief of Images, Prince advertises every spring semester for the submission of photographs, poetry and short stories for publication in the center’s student magazine.

The goal of the magazine is to spotlight different artists on campus who are often underrepresented and allow their voices to be showcased. It is also a chance to welcome new writers and artists into the ALANA center community. Each year, a cash prize is awarded to the most impressive piece of work in the collection.

Prince spoke to the role of the ALANA center magazine. “I’m really into the idea of creating art and then sharing it with the community, which is what Images is for. Images creates a space at Vassar where I can meet artists I ordinarily wouldn’t have. It also gives me an opportunity to share my own work, as well as learn from studying other artists crafts,” Prince stated.

After Vassar, Prince aspires to pursue a Master’s in Fine Arts in Photography and eventually join the ranks of art scholars and historians who came before her and who highly influenced her own path to self-discovery as an artist.

In a few years, she hopes to join the ranks of her grandfather, displaying her photographs world-wide.

“There’s always an opportunity to create art and enjoy yourself, so do what you love,” said Prince.

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