Dozens of student artworks decorated the iconic glass entryway to the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center this past weekend, drawing visitors into the heart of the museum. These pictures, whose creators come from all class years, constituted the exhibition “Light In Phocus.” Following the namesake of the exhibit, many of the featured photographs played with the light and shadows of our world. The subjects ranged from the photographers themselves to strangers, from colorful portraits to black and white stills, from foreign places to bedrooms. “Light in Phocus” was on display in the Loeb glass walkway from Nov. 7 to Nov. 10, making it the first time in Vassar history that student work has hung in the Loeb for longer than a Thursday Late Night.
“Light in Phocus” complements the current special exhibition “Shape of Light,” which presents selections from an array of approximately 4,500 photographs. The display highlights the history of photography from the mid-19th century to the present, showcasing the importance and diversity of the art form. “Light in Phocus” seeks to continue the tradition by allying it with Vassar culture.
“Light in Phocus” not only represents the power of photography in the art world and to Vassar students, but also speaks to the flourishing culture of photography on campus despite a dearth of formal photography courses offered. As a student organization, Phocus seeks to fill the gaps and provide students with a space to grow their art form. To compensate for the lack of academic space, Phocus provides access to a dark room, brings in lecturers, organizes workshops and spreads education for aspiring photographers. “We tend to fill a lot of the gaps,” Emma Brodsky ’20 explains.
The student exhibition was curated and organized by Phocus (Vassar’s photography student organization) executive board members: Ella Baum ’20, Brodsky and Cassie Jain ’20. Phocus photographers were asked to leaf through their work and find pieces that accompanied the selections displayed in the main “Shape of Light” exhibit. An artist statement supplemented each photograph, or set of photographs, and verbalized how each photographer interpreted the “Shape of Light” exhibit and how their pieces fit in conversation with the selected works—an intimate touch highlighting how personal photography can be as a field.
The exhibition itself presented a wide range of photographic techniques from Vassar students. In addition to diverse subject matter, each wall panel evinced a different story explored through the varying color palettes and experimentation with light. Baum spoke more on photography’s vast possibilities; she stated, “The camera allows the seer and the artists such an uninhibited relationship to the world: You’re showing other people your vision—the way you interact with the world. And it’s so personal…no two people can look at the same thing and take the same photograph.” As a collection, the photographs provided an intimate glimpse into the vibrant and varying experiences of Vassar’s student body.
Every photographer that submitted pieces had at least one of their works displayed, regardless of experience level. The curators recognized this exhibition as a chance for aspiring Vassar photographers to showcase their art in a professional and extolled way. “We wanted to put up strong work, but also make it democratic because it’s such an amazing opportunity for people to exhibit in the Loeb,” Baum explained. Phocus member Alex Garza ’23 gushed about the experience: “I have never had my photography displayed in an exhibit before, so I was exhilarated to have a platform to show my art.”
“Light in Phocus” is a manifestation of Phocus’ ongoing collaboration with campus in efforts to make photography more accessible and widespread. Jain proudly reflected upon the result: “We all know we’re doing something that’s a space that needs to be filled, but it’s nice to have a higher organization validate and recognize us.” “Light in Phocus” broke down photography’s institutional barriers by proving that all photography is worth sharing, from amateur snapshots to world-renowned artworks.