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 exhibition. 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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