The Wexner Center is by far one of the best intellectual and interesting places on Ohio State’s campus because its exhibits are modern, and attract not just students, but those from all around the Columbus area. The last exhibit, showcasing Annie Leibovitz and her creative eye for capturing the American spirit, was monumental to say the least. The replacement exhibit, More American Photographs, can be considered an extension of the beauty that is the American condition.
Beginning in the early 1930’s, when America was at its lowest financial state, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt started an initiative called the Farm Security Administration (FSA). Its goal was to document the struggle and hopefully strengthen the spirits of the population through the use of photography. With an economic state akin to the one nearly eighty years ago, a group of contemporary photographers have sought to capture the struggle just as the FSA did. The result of this clash in decades and styles is a gathering of beautiful documentary photography that juxtaposes the times but also captures the human condition in its most raw form.
As a firm believer in black and white photography because of its ability to say more with less (color that is), I was hesitant to see whether or not the color photographs showcased would stand their ground. They did. Just like the photos from the thirties and forties, these photographs show decrepit and deserted buildings as well as the helpless and hopeless people. Dorothea Lange’s iconic image, Destitute Pea Pickers in California (aka. Migrant Mother), showing an evidently exhausted mother can be compared to the equally as powerful Katy Grannan contemporary photograph of a father holding his daughter. Both photos embody the theme of timeless and true love through trying times, although they were taken nearly a century apart.
The immense size of the photos that line the walls enhances the immensity of the economic struggle of the times, although the photographs do not need any help in speaking for themselves. My favorite piece of the exhibit would have to be Hank Willis Thomas’ Strawberry Mansion. It is a sort of folding card display of a long street made up of 72 compiled prints. In it the viewer sees boarded up houses contrasted with the broad smiles of those posing for the photo. The severity of the times is evident along with the simplicity and hopefulness of human nature to persist. Come see for yourself and witness that no matter the time, Americans have the ability to endure.
The More American Photographs will be on exhibit until April 7th, 2013. Admission is $8 for adults, $6 for senior citizens, and free for Wexner Center members, college students, visitors under 18, school groups, and visitors with a ticket to a Wex film or performance that day. It is also free Thursdays 4-8 pm and Sundays.