Every artist’s dream is to have a show in a gallery to present the years of hard work they’ve put into their showcase. Sometimes it takes years for this dream to come true, and sometimes an artist may never live to see their work framed on a gallery wall.
Senior Media Arts and Design major Laura Weeks, however, had two showcases in February display her photography work.
Weeks put together two separate shows, Here and There at Clementine Café, and Portrait of my Father at Artworks Gallery on West Grace St.
Here and There consisted of her personal travel photos, mostly from Chicago and Urbino, Italy, whereas Portrait of my Father was a photo essay depicting the life of Weeks’ father, Doug, who passed away in 2010. While dozens of spectators crowded inside the venues to marvel at the talent and beauty of Weeks’ photos, the point of her shows were to show that she still has a long way to go.
“There’s still so much that I don’t know about photography,” Weeks said. “I wanted people to know these shows don’t make me feel superior in any way as a photographer. If anything, it’s a stepping stone where I started and the progress that I’ve made.”
Weeks always had an interest in photography and began playing around with cameras at a young age. But it wasn’t until college that her hobby turned into a passion. She joined The Breeze as a photographer her sophomore year, learning how to properly shoot a SLR camera while explore the use of different angles, lenses and lighting.
“Laura is our family photographer,” Laura’s older sister, Anna, 29, said. “She has taken some very special pictures during my pregnancies and of my children. I remember the summer she saved up her waitressing tips to buy her own digital SLR camera. It’s strange to see Laura without her camera hanging by her side.”
After years of experimenting, Weeks decided it was time to put together some shows to present her progress.
“It’s good to get yourself out there a little bit and have proof of what you’re doing and working on.”
The process of putting together the two shows at once was stressful and a lot more work than she expected.
“There was a lot of hidden expenses I didn’t think about,” she said laughing.
Both shows required her to put down security deposits, buy matted frames, and print all the photos out. Artworks Gallery also required her to pay to have her name above her section in the show. “I probably paid more than $200 and got less than $100 of it back.”
Despite the costs, Weeks considered both shows to be complete successes, estimating that about 30 people attended each opening night.
“I was surprised at, like, how many people from the community and older people came and were just kind of looking around.”
Here and There: February 1-22
Spending time in a foreign country can be daunting for some, but for Weeks it was inspirational and exhilarating. The photos she took while studying abroad in Urbino, Italy, and in the States, made up the content for Here and There, her first February show.
“I’d never been out of the country until I went to Italy this summer,” she said. “For me it was definitely a whole new world and I wanted to take a picture of everything.”
The Urbino summer program that is offered by the SMAD department was a once in a lifetime trip for Weeks. About 50 students went on the trip and were broken into smaller groups. Laura and her group, calling each other “the cinque” (Italian word for five), shared a common interest in photography and enjoyed afternoons roaming the city and taking pictures of everything.
“The city was so small there wasn’t a part we didn’t go down, an alley we didn’t venture down,” Weeks said. “We…took photos and would sit in the piazza and watch people and drink wine.”
The photos don’t have a storyline but are meant to showcase the beauty of the areas she visited, with its vast views of green trees and fields and the quaint cobblestone streets that wind throughout the area.
Besides the architecture and nature shots, Weeks focuses a lot on the daily interactions of the locals. In one photo named “Leaning,” she shows a handsome young man, nonchalantly leaning on an old stone fountain in the plaza, just looking off into the distance. Another shows three women of different generations, casually chatting outside of a little shop on the street.
After several projects where she was assigned to just sit, watch and capture interactions and the daily lives of the Urbino locals, Weeks found shooting was easier and more fun.
“I think when you are in a town where no one speaks English it’s easier to not be so self-conscious about taking pictures of people because you know you’re going to leave and they’re not going to remember you.”
Besides having the free time to wander the city and work on projects, the class was accompanied by a group of faculty members, comprised of Pulitzer Prize winning photographers and reporters.
“We had so much hands on experience with people who are well beyond our experience.”
Laura became close with her mentor, Susan Biddle, a photographer for the Washington Post while in Urbino.
Biddle was one of 12 instructors who were on the Urbino trip to be mentors to the students. Biddle taught still photo to the multimedia and magazine students as well as mentored the “cinque” group.
Biddle helped Laura a great deal when it came to maturing her talent and work and even offered some pointers for her Portrait of my Father show.
“Laura is a wonderful young woman, she works hard and seems to know what she is after,” Biddle said. “With more experience I think she’s going to be really, really good. And she’s good at all of it — writing, photos, organizational skills and so on.”
Portrait of my Father: February 11-22
There’s a saying; you don’t know how much you love someone until they’re gone. On January 31, 2010, Laura’s father passed away unexpectedly from a heart attack.
Three years later, Weeks was able to artistically express her grief and create the Portrait of my Father photo essay.
“He passed away my freshman year and I couldn’t talk about it at the funeral,” Weeks said. “This was kind of my eulogy for him. Photography was my medium for doing that. It’s a stepping-stone in the healing process.”
The photo essay consists of 15 pictures ranging from black and white shots of the items and places that defined Doug to color photos of him working on the Norfolk Southern Railway or around the house. Each photo is accompanied by a short description explaining the significance of the photo, giving the viewer more insight into who Doug truly was.
The photos take viewers into the home and mind of an interesting man, one who is depicted to have loved his job with the Norfolk Southern, who made great sacrifices for his family, and had a passion for technology, The Who and Morse Code.
His workplace was a mess, cluttered with wires, gadgets, tools, radios and engineering books crammed into every possible nook and cranny. The tone of the show starts off nostalgic and calm, showing pictures of Doug working on the railroads, his messy workspace and old records that he used to listen to.
But as the show moves on, the tone shifts to one of longing and emptiness, showing areas that Doug frequented the most, like the old couch with the patterned quilt draped across the back or the dining room window overlooking the neighborhood.
The final photo in the sequence is of Doug’s watch, accompanied by a tagline that sums up the photo essay: “We lost Dad to a heart attack on January 31, 2010, the day before his 62nd birthday. He enjoyed 61 years as a son and brother, 31 years as a husband, 29 years as a father and one month as a grandfather.”
According to Anna, her family was unaware Laura was working on this show, but found the end product a pleasant and emotional surprise.
“She’s always been quiet about her work until she finishes and has it perfected, which was exactly what “Portrait of my Father” was — a perfect showcase of Dad’s special moments and belongings,” Anna said.
“Her photos captured and evoked memories and emotions, not just for my family, but for others who came to the show. My mom, brother, and I felt so proud of Laura for honoring Dad’s memory and we knew this was an important and expressive way for Laura to grieve.”
The time and memories Laura had with her father are precious and unfortunately finite. But with Portrait of my Father, Weeks has been able to keep Doug’s memory and spirit alive for years to come.
“I took those photos a year after he passed away part of it was to preserve stuff around the house that hadn’t really been touched yet,” Weeks said. “The picture of his desk and all the mess that was there doesn’t look like that now, two years later. I’m glad that I took it. And if anything, it’s a preservation of what it was like.”
Doug was more to Weeks than a father– he was a mentor who helped her transcend her own expectations and find a passion in photography.
“I kind of feel like I started out at The Breeze as a photographer because of him,” Weeks said. “He was kind of interested in photography. I’m just starting to use the film camera that he had. I really wanted to be good at something for him and that’s kind of been part of my whole college experience. Instead of getting discouraged with work, I remind myself I want to be a legacy for him, and that pushes me to do well, to not be afraid of trying things and if I don’t think I am good enough.”
Weeks’ college experience has been emotionally trying for better and for worse. But she faced her adversities directly and has been able to learn from them and turn them into art. Photography has helped her find a way to express feelings that words could never explain, and helped her learn to move on and discover more about herself and her talents.
“Starting out at The Breeze I never thought that I would have two photo shows at the same time at pretty popular places around Harrisonburg,” Weeks said. “It’s nice to have this work and have it displayed. In a sense that wraps up the work and encourages me to start new projects and think of new things I want to work on and messages that I want to come across.”