Alumni Photographers Find Focus
Exhibit provides opportunity for artists’ homecoming
By Myrna DeVries Anderson '00

There was a familiar tone to the conversation in the Center Art Gallery during the Alumni Photography Competition held there Feb. 8 through March 8.

“It’s good to see people,” said Jeff Casemier ’98, an art director for Web design who recently moved from Chicago back to Grand Rapids. “I saw a couple of people here that I haven’t seen since I graduated.”

An alumnus from another era echoed Casemier’s sentiment. “I have a lot of continuing connections with people at Calvin,” said Steven Huyser-Honig ex’82. “I live in Grand Rapids; I have a lot of friends here, and my son graduated from here. My wife is a graduate.”

Both Casemier and Huyser-Honig had work hanging in the show, as did a number of other alums circling the exhibition. Casemier was the author of “Bunny Hutch,” a photograph taken with a Holga, an inexpensive plastic camera considered a toy among enthusiasts. “The great thing about Holgas is that they take medium-format film, which means they can be used to create very high-quality prints,” he said. “At the same time, they focus unpredictably, give terrible lens flare and leak light unless sealed up with electrical tape. The resulting images are often dream-like, soft focused and vignetted, especially around the edges.”

Huyser-Honig, a local teacher and a not-infrequent presence at Center Art Gallery exhibitions, is also the artist whose lens captured “Nordhouse Dune” and “Alfalfa, Corn, and Sky.” “People look at my work and think it’s a painting, but I say, ‘No, it’s a photograph,’” he said. “I think it’s because it has very simple lines and very simple fields of color.”

Both artists were impressed with the range of photographic genres submitted by their fellow Calvin graduates. “It’s such a nice diverse show,” said Huyser-Honig. “It’s everything from nature to avant-garde things—interesting techniques and a lot of different artistic visions.”

The creative range of the competition is one benefit of focusing on a single medium like photography, said Calvin director of exhibitions Joel Zwart, who has organized the alumni shows since he came to the college in 2003: “For years, we had done alumni shows that were open. There was no focus on a specific theme or medium.”

That changed, Zwart said, when Charles Young, then an art history professor at Calvin, mounted DeMystifying Architecture, a spring 2002 exhibition that focused on alumni who were architects and their work. “It was the first alumni show based not only on a single medium, but also a specific program within the department of art and art history.”

The architecture show set the pattern for alumni art shows to come: the Alumni Design Competition in 2004 and the Alumni Print Competition in 2006. “What I hope and think we’ve achieved is a better quality show, a way to connect with a specific group of alums, and an opportunity to shine a light on a specific program our art department has to offer,” Zwart said.

The alumni artists in attendance had fond memories of their own days in the Calvin art department. “This is where I felt like I was doing what I was supposed to be doing,” said Casemier, who originally majored in engineering at Calvin. (“After a year of calculus, I said, ‘That’s just about enough,’” he said.) Casemier also reminisced about mooching free food at the coffee shop that used to stand adjacent to the art department in the basement. “Lots of late nights in the darkroom,” he added.

Ruth Ribeiro ’08, a near-alum whose “Untitled” and “Bus Home” were hanging in the show, has a similar attachment to the department. “I think I spend more time in the basement than I do in my own home,” she said. “It’s soothing or relaxing to have the empty studio. You don’t have any prying eyes or judgment. It’s great to be in the darkroom or woodshop—especially when the stuff you make is good.”

Director of alumni relations Mike Van Denend enjoyed the enthusiastic response—both in submissions and attendance—to this year’s alumni show. “We’re really interested that the art our alumni produce is recognized by the college. In the alum’s case, you want the college to be seen as their artistic home, one of their artistic homes,” he said. “Hopefully some of their work will be left behind here. It’s like in your family home: If your parents liked something you did, they put it on the wall. Maybe you didn’t say so, but you wanted them to put your created work on the refrigerator. And now, hopefully, alumni see Calvin putting their art on the wall here.”      

— Myrna Anderson is Calvin’s senior writer.


Memorable images claim top honors

The winners of the 2008 Alumni Photography Competition were chosen from six categories—color and design, narrative, process, landscape, documentary and nature—chosen by juror Jennifer Steensma Hoag, a Calvin art professor who specializes in photography. “The award-winning photographs were selected because they were outstanding, memorable images,” Steensma Hoag said. She shared her insights on the competition winners.

Best of Show

“Lighthouse Honeycomb” and “Orange Hawkweed” by Steve Bardolph ’93:

“Photographic lenses make circular images, but typically there is a mask inside the camera that cuts this circle into the expected square or rectangle. Bardolph’s work acknowledges the process of photography by including all that the lens captured, including the lens distortion. In addition, the equipment he used to produce his photographs has essentially been repurposed. Its intended function is for real estate imaging. Bardolph’s photographs reference how specific photographs are in terms of moment and point of view. By showing us multiple images (taken at different times and at different angles) of the same scene, he shows us the limitations of the single image in a playful way. Finally, by making self-portraits, Bardolph acknowledges the photographer’s role in making the images.”

Honorable Mentions

“Untitled: (Boy with Bag)” and “Untitled: (Two Washing Machines)” by Ryan Norman ’04:

“In Ryan Norman’s ‘Untitled’ images I see open-ended narratives that have a distinct fairy-tale quality. The forest, a common setting for these childhood stories, seems to underscore this idea. In Norman’s images, young boys are sent to do impossible tasks, and household appliances flee only to be trapped in their escape. Norman specifically selected these places and moments because of the metaphors the subjects could suggest. The entire ‘story’ of these fictions is condensed into single frames. The success of these images depends on our willingness to construct a fitting narrative and go with our imagination.” 

Honorable Mentions

“astilbe” and “dragonfly” by Amelea Rose Gritter ’01:

Amelea Rose Gritter’s photographs, ‘astilbe’ and ‘dragonfly,’ are a sensuous depiction of summer. One can almost feel the warmth of the sun, smell the flower’s scent and hear the buzz of the insects. This is not a literal depiction that provides specific sharp details, but a suggestive one that provides an impression or revives a memory. Gritter’s work reminds us of those precious fleeting days of summer.