The 62 photos currently displayed in the Lamarche Gallery as part of the Office of Off-Campus Study’s “Exposure” exhibit range from professional shots to pictures snapped from a flip phone that are “barely Facebook worthy,” according to Kate Myall, assistant director of Off-Campus Study. However, these photos are not hanging because they are deemed excellent works of art, but because they tell unique stories of Bowdoin students abroad.
Christine Wintersteen, director of Off-Campus Study, and Myall sent out prompts to students who were abroad in the past year, asking them to send in photographs and include a short caption explaining the image.
“It was a way for the students to find a different means of processing their abroad experience and reflect back on it, trying to see whatever country they were in, in a different light,” said Abbie Geringer ’14, the curator of the exhibit.
“I wanted to do a little more knitting together of the on- and off-campus communities,” said Myall. “I think it’s really important that students are able to talk about their time abroad beyond the sort of superficial, ‘How was it? It was great! Cool! Do you want to go to Thorne or Moulton?’”
Myall emphasized the significance of keeping personal records as part of the study abroad experience, although she recognized the daunting nature of the task.
“Sometimes the idea of journaling isn’t so appealing,” said Myall. “What we wanted to do was find a way to do journaling for the 21st century. We figured, people already have cameras with them; people are already taking pictures. Why not use that form of journaling as the means of reflection?”
Myall came up with 10 prompts to speak to different phases of the study abroad experience, including the excitement of first arriving, the shock of a new school, and the discomfort along the way.
Geringer commented on the sheer volume of student responses.
“We ended up getting way over 100 photos,” said Geringer. “We had to go through them all and narrow it down to the 62 we have, and then create an exhibition based on the variety of the experiences these students have had and the variety of ways in which they responded to our prompts.”
Myall praised Geringer for her exceptional work on gathering the photos, picking the ones to be displayed, and soliciting her peers. “We wanted to give her the opportunity to do something like this.”
“We had this great privilege, every week, of getting a handful of photographs on each theme from around the world. My inbox was brimming with them,” explained Myall. “We did this for about 18 months.”
Myall cannot pick a favorite photo, although she noted that a picture that stands out to her is a “really terrible photo” that is blurry and clearly taken on a camera phone, which features a maid watching television.
Myall summarized the story told in the caption.
“The student has befriended the housekeeper, and gotten sense of her side of the socioeconomic situation,” said Myall. “By befriending the housekeeper, in some ways she’s disrupted the natural ecosystem, and she learns the housekeeper is going to be let go.”
The student, having heard both the maid’s unhappiness and the family’s displeasure, was privy to both sides of the decision.
“If I were just looking at this photo, I would be like, oh whatever,” said Myall. “But by reading the words, it is so deep. It speaks to really interesting things about our privilege when we’re visiting a place, what we’re stepping into, and how we need to be observers and while also interacting.”
Geringer also noted that though the quality of the actual photographs might not be stellar, the prospect of creating an exhibit of amateur work was intriguing.
“It’s cool because then you pay more attention to the theme behind the photo,” said Geringer.
“This is a more intimate show because it’s asking you to connect on a more personal level with these people and these photographs.”
“There are some beautiful pieces from a student who was in Paris. She takes these magazine quality photographs, but in some ways I think the photos that are barely Facebook worthy are just as important,” added Myall. “Ultimately, most memories live in snapshot form.”