By BECKY FARRAR, arts intern
Wendel White’s "Manifest," on display at CIIS through March 18, is a stunning collection of stark photographs of objects, documents, and images that relate to slavery, abolitionism, Reconstruction, and the civil rights era. All of these objects, documents, and images are held in both private and institutionally-held collections throughout northwestern New York State. While on a short term faculty residency at the Rochester Institute of Technology, White trekked across the region bringing only his camera and a piece of black satin.
The objects are photographed in natural light against a pure black background using a very narrow focal plane, a strategy that allowed White to play with the viewer’s perception of space and scale. The objects take on a monumentality that speaks to the very contemporary importance of slavery’s legacy.
Over a 30-year career, White’s work has been widely exhibited throughout the United States. Though in his early work he experimented with altering the picture plane in ways that presaged digital photograph. In recent years he’s focused his attention on the complexities of race in America, whether through a documentary approach uniting image and text to relate narrative, or making visible the markings of history on the landscape.
White's recent project, "Schools for the Colored," is an extension of a long-term project entitled "Small Towns, Black Lives," which he worked on from 1989-2002. While we prefer to assume that the north was integrated, "Schools for the Colored" explores the systematic segregation that flourished along a wide swath of the American middle northern states: New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio.
The images from "Schools for the Colored" depict the buildings and landscapes of racially segregated schools established in this region. The 50 images construct a metaphor for the schools’ isolation within a larger educational system. White separates the defined school buildings from their backgrounds by white washing, or placing a veil over, the landscape in which the schools were situated.
White has a BFA in photography from the School of Visual Arts in New York and an MFA in photography from the University of Texas at Austin, and he has received numerous awards including an En Foco New Works Photography Fellowship, two fellowships from the New Jersey Council on the Arts, a grant from the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts, and a Guggenheim fellowship.
His work has appeared in Exposure magazine, Nueva Luz, and Photo Review. Images from "Village of Peace: An African American Community in Israel" were recently featured in Transition magazine, published by the W. E. B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research at Harvard University.
Learn more about White’s current and past projects.
"Manifest" is on display on the 4th Floor of the CIIS Main Building through March 18. Map to the CIIS Main Building.