I jumped in to help out with the exhibition Of Life and Loss: The Polish Photographs of Roman Vishniac and Jeffrey Gusky during the last phases of development. I was immediately struck by the artists’ visually and emotionally compelling images that captured Jewish experiences in Poland at different points in time. Their photographs share the theme of memory—both how we remember the lives that once were and the void that remains when they’ve passed.
The theme of memory applies to us all. Every time I see a photograph of my grandmother, I remember how she taught me to sew—with skill, patience, and a quiet persistence. She’s gone now, but her sewing machine remains—a durable reminder of her special talents. Her memory lives on in the stitches that help construct the garments I sew today.
We all have our own ways of thinking about memory, a fact evidenced by photographs taken by area high school students in conjunction with Of Life and Loss. I was moved by the images we received. As an educator, I’m constantly striving to find ways to make art relevant—searching for those kernels of meaning that will resonate. The results of the student photography project are those kernels – they are moving, insightful, striking, and evocative perspectives on how memory manifests itself in the everyday. Through the discerning eye of each individual student, the intricacies of remembrance emerge.
I was particularly intrigued by the fact that three different students (from two different schools) chose to take photographs of swing sets. Similar to the two photographers featured in the exhibition, the photographs by these three students focus on similar subject matter, but with distinct points of view.
In one, two swings sit empty in a black and white image of an elementary school playground. The student discusses her memories of “soaring through the skies” and her feelings of invincibility. The empty swings remind the viewer of more innocent days.
In another image, a single, broken swing hangs by a metal ring. The student recalls that “Unbroken playgrounds were scarce.” For this artist, the broken swing represents the memories that “children around Detroit hold.” The image captures the collective experiences of many urban youth.
In a third image, a series of swing sets cast linear shadows on the concrete and asphalt playground of a middle school. For this student the swings bring back memories of “swinging the shoes from our feet across the blacktop.” To her, these swing sets represent “the good ol’ days,” suggesting a loss of what once was.
These are just a few of the many student photographs that can be seen in conjunction with Of Life and Loss. Be sure to look for the students’ work when you come. A running slideshow presents the photographs accompanied by a booklet that contains artist statements. Thank you to the photography students and teachers from Dearborn High School, Renaissance High School, and Roeper High School. Your work is proof that art matters.