2004 Von Harten, Andrew by wfq74180


									                              Andy von Harten
                                     Bridging the Gap
                    Faculty Mentor: Val Brinkerhoff, Visual Arts Photography

My family began as one little unit, but had become little dots on a map as each person created his
or her own little family. This de-centralization has weakened the once close-knit society that
existed in former years. With this constant change, how can one person create a link from an
older generation to the younger one? My project attempted to prime the generational pump and
unite families, beginning with mine. The project included visiting little known members of my
family over Christmas break 2004, interviewing them, and then creating descriptive photographs
that revealed more about each person. The resulting photographs, along with excerpts from the
interview, were to be displayed in the Harold B. Lee Library on the campus of Brigham Young
University during April 2004. For various reasons beyond my control, my proposed start-date
for this project passed and I had not learned if I would receive the Research Grant. Nevertheless,
I felt prompted to begin the project.

In December 2004, I drove from Utah to Indiana with my sister. We stopped along the way in
Missouri and met one of my dad’s cousins. I had never met her, but I was amazed how willing
she was to talk about her past and the history of her family. She even fed us as we got to know
her family including her two big dogs. Unfortunately, we had no time for a photograph. Even
so, we departed and I felt assured that this trip would be fruitful. Our next stop was a few hours
down the road with another of my dad’s cousins. Again, we were met with open arms.
Throughout this trip I met people I have never known. Just like reading pages from a book, the
names of family members that before have been empty and vague became clearer and clearer.
Those vacant names became people, and in the process, I learned about my heritage.

My journey continued with similar experiences. Not everyone opened up completely, but when
they did, things got interesting. I discovered that my family has some unusual family dynamics.

From the seventeen people I proposed interviewing, I ended up interviewing fifteen in the period
of about two weeks. Of those fifteen I could only photograph thirteen. I don’t know how each
person personally responded to this project, but I felt welcomed. One of the most successful
interviews came not from an unfamiliar family member, but from my own mother. From her
interview I learned much about her childhood, her fears, and her interests.

Upon finally receiving the Mentoring Grant in February 2004, I felt excited for the opportunity
to do more with this project. From the financial support of the grant I was able to purchase
picture frames and pay for the costs associated with displaying these photographs in an
When I first photographed the subjects I felt a bit disappointed with the resulting pictures. After
showing these pictures to my faculty mentor, Val Brinkerhoff, he encouraged me to enhance the
natural photographs with various post-productions techniques. Using Photoshop, this proved
successful. Trying some of his suggestions got me excited about the pictures from an artistic
perspective more than just the personal affinity. The aesthetic quality improved dramatically and
thus the overall effect of the exhibition improved.

Reviewing the interviews proved a hefty task. Each interview lasted around two hours. Thanks
to a variable speed tape recorder, the work progressed much faster. Finally with all the editing
and refining completed, I framed the photographs and completed the final details of the
exhibition. With the help of the Harold B. Lee Library staff, especially Chris Ramsey, I hung the
show on April 6, 2004.

Some of the people that viewed the show wrote comments. Several shared gratitude for the work
put into the show; others said acknowledged the hard work required to complete such a project. I
even had a few derogatory comments. At first these comments bothered me, but then I thought,
“Well, at least they stopped and looked at the show.” The best moment occurred when my
parents visited during graduation. Watching them pour over each photograph and descriptions
brought excitement to my heart.

The importance of this project is not just that I did it, but that I documented it for future
generations. I’m not sure of the records that have been kept up to this point, but I know at least
what I did is documented. My immediate family learned more about our heritage. I feel the
project was very successful. I accomplished my purpose of getting to know my family, using the
talent I have been given, and sharing this gift with others in a public exhibition. I hope those
who viewed the exhibition felt prompted to begin documenting their own family. Only God
knows the entire effect this project had, but I know it certainly helped me bridge the gap in my
own family.

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