Review: Tisch photography highlights individuality at senior thesis exhibition

Three small figurines sit and stand near an edge, overlooking the a hallway with photos on the wall.

Through a series of photographs and interactive installations, the ground floor Gulf + Western Gallery and eighth floor gallery of the Tisch School of the Arts displays the sum of four years of study. Curated by adjunct professor Kalia Brooks, the work of each student is displayed in the form of several articles suspended from the gallery walls or placed atop pedestals, with many consisting of interactive installations alongside the photography itself.

The Department of Photography and Imaging 2024 BFA Senior Thesis Exhibition highlights 45 multimedia senior theses from DPI’s graduating class, with each revolving around a different query or theme as conveyed through an artist’s statement. For contributing artists, the capstone project gave them the means to be introspective, provoking questions around culture, environment and the self.

The imagery featured in each portion of the exhibition serves to reflect each artist’s interests, ranging in subject, but well established in their own ideals and themes. Nik Bauman’s “Ink, Sweat, Feedback” paints a dynamic and candid portrayal of the Brooklyn punk scene, featuring vibrant photos of musicians in motion and accompanied by a zine of additional imagery. Emma Estes’ “1.5° Celsius” merges photography and design to consider how humans may need to adapt to the impending consequences of pollution and global warming. Depictions of subjects with adaptive anatomical features, such as gills or exhaust pipes, jump out against dystopian backdrops in a show of both human resilience and warning. 

Despite each section being unique to their respective artists’ visions, different works are often placed in conversation with one another, making the exhibition both cohesive and interactive. 

Yu Gao’s “Family Archive #0” first appears to be a traditional array of family photos in a display case, each one set in a frame — family poised to eat at the dinner table, still lifes of worn-in rooms or relatives sitting in an orderly row, for instance. The domestic scenes, however, are not as they appear; rather than being a standard set of family photos, the collection’s label specifies that each image has been partially generated by an algorithm. The work questions visual credibility in the age of generative AI, subverting viewers’ expectations in a twist on traditional domestic photography.

Helena Shan challenges typical artistic conventions through her work in “Me & Mine,” a series of pieces that place mothers front and center both within and separate from domestic settings. It marks a strong, intentional divergence from traditions in portraiture — featuring predominantly male subjects, with any female presence condemned to be decorative background figures — in a poignant celebration of motherhood, but more so of the women behind the title. Shan and Gao’s works face each other on opposing walls of the lobby, seemingly speaking to each other in their defiance of photographic tradition.

Beyond conceptual experimentation, some students seized the opportunity to experiment with media beyond traditional camera capture. Esmé Bella Rice’s “I Think You Should Hear This” features both photography and text in the form of handwritten diary entries, both of which merge to divulge unspoken and personal stories both on the page and over the gallery’s walls. 

In Anna Henderson’s “I love you, now,” the relationships between a variety of couples are captured in the form of evocative, affectionate moments of time. In what Henderson describes as “artifacts or evidence of love,” she captures the quiet happiness of being truly known. Erwin Chen’s “Free Spirits” spotlights children interacting with their environments and with each other. Whether passive in strollers or active on the playground with their peers, Chen captures their expressive nature with special attention, making even the monochromatic shots vibrant and suggesting that his young subjects are wise beyond their years.

Just as a photograph serves to capture an individual moment, the exhibition provides an ephemeral glimpse into the development of now-established artists, both through their education within and outside the bounds of NYU. The pieces collectively reach back to the places and things that have raised us and recontextualize what we’ve come to know.

The exhibition will be on display in the ground floor Gulf + Western Gallery and eighth floor gallery until May 17.

Contact Eleanor Jacobs at arts@nyunews.com.

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