Controversial art exhibits have been installed around campus as part of Professor of Art Michael Kolster’s Large Format Photography class. One of these installations—which prompted a response from the administration—involved photos of Donald Trump taped over photos of students in David Saul Smith Union.

In order for students to explore the concept of installation, Professor Kolster asked students to curate an installation anywhere on Bowdoin’s campus. Throughout the assignment, Kolster emphasized nontraditional space, encouraging his students to place photographs in areas where members of the community don’t normally encounter artwork. 

Large Format Photography is a 2000-level class in which students harness the large format camera to continue developing skills and themes explored in Photo 1. The camera’s bulk, heft and myriad adjustments result in a totally different photographic experience than that of smaller cameras. Students shoot one negative at a time, slowing down the photographic process.

Students could choose to use their own photographs or the photographs of others for their installations. According to Professor Koster, the goal of the project was for the message and themes of the photographs to take precedence over authorship. He encouraged students to think about the interaction between the space, the audience and the installation.

This assignment resulted in nine different installments around campus. Victoria Pitaktong ’17 attempted to reduce the stigma around women’s periods by hanging images of her friends’ bloody pads in the stalls of the men’s bathroom in David Saul Smith Union. 

“I think there’s a lot of taboo around the period—that it’s nasty, people just don’t want to talk about it,” she said. “I find it difficult to hear when men say that women are just whining about their periods when they’re going through pain. You can’t even look at these things directly, how can you say women are weak?” 

Nick Benson ’17 produced an equally provocative installment, in which he covered the pictures of students in the hallway of Smith Union with large pictures of Donald Trump’s face. 

“I hate looking at his face; it really grosses me out. I think I dislike looking at his face so much because I associate it with his voice and I associate his voice with idiocy,” said Benson. “I was trying to set up an installation for people like me who hate looking at his face but woke up on Wednesday morning knowing that we have to get used to the realization of seeing it.” 

According to Benson, the installment was met with mixed reviews: only twenty minutes after he installed it, college administrators moved the pictures to the other side of the hallway. After Benson repositioned them in their original spot, a student ripped up the pictures and threw them in the recycling bin in a matter of minutes. However, this strong reaction didn’t discourage Benson.

“I think the visceral reaction of the viewer is something I was really going for, because we’re going to have to get used to it,” said Benson, “I mean, seeing his pictures in the Union for five minutes is way less painful than having him as our president for four years.”

Despite the varied reactions to the installments across campus, Kolster said he was proud of how the projects turned out. 

“There were varying degrees of provocation and varying degrees of things that they were trying to say, varying degrees of social or aesthetic engagement that the installations worked with,” he added. “All of us as image makers seek on some level to have them be seen, to make a contribution to the larger conversation.”​