SOCIAL JUSTICE PHOTOGRAPHY IS DRIVEN BY COMPASSION
Katelyn Allen transferred to USD in Fall 2015. She knew that she wanted to find a meaningful way to get involved, but she had no idea that she would wind up curating her own gallery exhibition.
A double major — art history and philosophy — Allen, a junior, has always been interested in the meaning behind art. When she met Director of University Galleries Derrick Cartwright she quickly learned that the intent, particularly in photography, can actually be paramount.
“Not all photographs are driven by compassion or empathy or a desire to make a difference in the world, but social justice photography absolutely is,” Cartwright explains.
After meeting with him and others on the University Galleries team, Allen “instantly felt welcomed” and quickly signed on to become an intern. But this wasn’t an ordinary student internship; it was a true immersion.
“I like that we can have students so intimately involved in the process of selecting art and curating shows. It’s one of the things that makes USD special. Almost everything that we do at the gallery is rooted in the student experience,” says Cartwright.
With a goal of “exposing viewers to a glimpse of something that their own life experiences don’t allow them to experience,” he assigned Allen an exciting task: curate a show.
For an aspiring professor and university gallery director, it was a dream come true, especially given the exhibition’s theme: social justice photography. As she carefully sifted through each piece owned by the university — even helping to acquire more works of art — Allen experienced a crash course in meaning.
“It became clear that social justice photography is trying to get the viewer to respond, to go out in the world and take action,” she says. “These pieces are supposed to evoke a reaction from the viewer.”
Last February, her curated exhibition, I Witness: Social Justice Documentary and Street Photography, opened in the Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice. The show featured 20 images ranging from the Great Depression to the civil rights era to the current day.
Social justice artwork is particularly meaningful to USD’s Catholic identity.
“The Catholic Church has been such an ardent supporter of civil rights issues, not just the Farm Workers Movement but also the Selma voting rights march. There are photographs of the nuns marching alongside the protesters. It’s part of Catholic history,” Cartwright explains.
For Allen, one of the most rewarding parts of the project was the ability to incorporate student artwork in the adjacent gallery. “It’s great to be able to show the work of students and graduates who’ve been able to go out into the world and use their education in a meaningful way.”
Even though Allen’s curated exhibition has now closed, it’s just one more beginning for University Galleries. Cartwright is honing his own vision for the future.
“We really have the opportunity to build something meaningful. Everything that happens here is going to be fresh and impactful.” — Taylor Milam
Photo credit: Sebastião Salgado, Gold Mine, Serra Pelada, State of Pará, Brazil, 1986, gelatin silver print ©Sebastião Salgado/Amazonas images