RCAD Photography Exhibition Emphasizes Teacher Impact, Student Action

Arts & Culture

Pictured: : Liberty by Jesse Clark. Image courtesy of the artist.

Exhibition season is well underway at Ringling College of Art and Design, where Monday marks the opening of  Teaching and Learning, a multigenerational photography exhibition charting the evolution of the medium and exploring how each generation of practitioners impacts the next. Beginning with 12 vintage gelatin silver prints from mid-century photographers Bill Brandt and Harry Callahan, Teaching and Learning traces a line of mentorship through decades of photography, as each student becomes a teacher to the next generation, culminating in the work of Ringling professor Thomas Carabasi and recent Ringling graduate Jesse Clark, whose large-scale contribution to the exhibition reframes black student protest through a Romanticist lens.

“Photography started as a way to capture the world around me in its simplest form,” says Clark. But as a kid born in Haiti and growing up in Lakeland, FL, the simplest form of the world around him often left a lot to be desired—especially in how it portrayed black people like Clark. “Mostly stereotypes,” he says. “And very limited portrayals of me and who I thought I was.” But it impressed upon him the power of the camera and the images it made and so Clark went to Ringling to study photography formally. “Now I can use it as a way to reshape how people view the world,” he says. And with his series, To Sting Like A Bee, Clark merges his eye for painterly beauty with his conviction for social justice.

Clark’s sole contribution to the exhibition and perhaps the culmination of the aforementioned series, Liberty stands as the artist’s largest work to date. Inspired by Eugene Delacroix’s Liberty Leading The People, Clark’s work reimagines the iconic French Romanticist’s image of revolution in the context of modern protest by black students in America. “Especially at a time when we’re looking at changes happening at New College and the taking away of diversity and inclusion programs,” he says. “I wanted to create a piece that says, ‘This is who we are, we still exist and we’re still fighting to be seen.’” And what began as a sketch in his notebook eventually became a full-scale production with more than 30 people and at least one motorcycle. “And each person is someone actually affected by the issue,” says Clark.

So how does Carabasi, the white professor, fit in? “Attention to detail,” says Clark. “As an instructor, that’s something he made sure we paid attention to.” And whether it be the emphasis on pinks and pastels in costuming, the careful avoidance of aggression in posture or countenance of the models, the “1804” motorcycle decal paying tribute to Haitian independence, nothing is an accident in Clark’s latest work. “Everything within the frame has an importance,” he says. “And we’ll see in this exhibition how photography can shape culture.”

Teaching and Learning opens Monday, August 21, in the Patricia Thompson + Skylight Alumni Galleries located in Ringling College’s Keating Building. The exhibition runs through October 20.

Pictured: : Liberty by Jesse Clark. Image courtesy of the artist.

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