I met the Rhode Island photographer Jonathan Sharlin at another photographer couple’s house at a pizza party. As we talked about, what else, photography, I found out about his then-upcoming exhibit and talk titled Remembrance featuring Rhode Island Holocaust survivors. The opening reception and the first artist talk was this afternoon, I picked up Jim and we went to the exhibition venue in Pawtucket.
We glanced at the gallery space and glanced through the photographs as they hung on taut wires stretched from wall to wall, I could see through the photographs printed on large transparent film. Before we walked into the gallery and as I was saying hello to Jonathan, they announced that the talk would start soon in the auditorium and we walked over there.
He explained in his presentation that through a friend’s help he met the nine survivors of the Holocaust and got them to collaborate with him to bring this work to fruition. He asked the survivors to write a hand-written essay about their experiences in captivity and also allow him to photograph them. The photo session was formally informal, as each survivor decided how to dress and how to pose for the photographs. “The only thing I asked of them was to look at my lens,” Jonathan said. This way, they would connect with the camera, and through the camera connect with the viewer; and connect they did!
The Installation of Portrait Narratives
After the presentation, we walked over to the gallery to enjoy the installation. Each photograph was printed on a large transparent film like done in the days of analog photography. Alongside the large portraits were fragments from their hand-written essays printed in a similar way. The installation was constructed as four rows of wire with 6-7 prints clipped on them with alligator clips. One mainly looked through them rather than looked at them against the brightly lit white wall in the background seeing other visitors behind some rows at the same time.
Several thoughts came to my mind while listening to Jonathan and viewing the installation.
- Although these nine individuals may appear to have stories with a “happy ending,” their story was never pleasant in any way
- While they were collaborating on the project, they were reliving the stories not entirely devoid of pain as they recalled the life-changing experiences
- The transparent print medium was at once a testament to their transparency in sharing their experiences and presenting them but making them equally elusive at the same time
- Looking through the prints and seeing other narratives, portraits, or visitors added a visual and mental depth to the presentation
It is definitely worth a visit to experience the installation. You will find the Holocaust Survivors’ entire stories in booklets to read while viewing the installation. Here is the venue and time information:
March 3 – April 30, 2017
Blackstone Valley Visitors Center, Blackstone Gallery
175 Main Street, Pawtucket, RI 02860
More on his Web site. And here are a few snapshots I took at the exhibit, just to give you a taste of what awaits you. The real thing is decidedly better than its digital rendering here.