January 30 marked the opening of the RVCC 2015 Independent Study Student Exhibition, currently installed at the RVCC Art Gallery and running through February 13. Featured in the show are select drawings, paintings, ceramics and photos, all of commendable artistry and effort. And yet, there is one offering that is able to profoundly affect the viewer with its poignancy.
Photographer Christianne Ebel has transcended the customary student showing with her presentation titled David’s Story. It is a masterful creation of visual images that do not just tell a story but provide a sensitive narration of an actual event that has caused her such heartbreak.
Ebel’s story begins with the introduction of her friend named David. During a week in April, 2010, she visits him in the Ozarks as he works on his homestead. Bringing her camera, she records moments of work on his log cabin as well as times of relaxation. During her visit, she meets another friend of David’s. Justin comes and helps David with some of the work, and Christianne captures through her camera candid shots of friends being friends.
After the week’s visit, Christianne traveled home only to be informed later by authorities that Justin had murdered David hours following her departure. As a natural storyteller, Ebel is able to provide the gallery visitor a written account of what she experienced and what she knows. Yet it is through her images and their presentation on the gallery wall that truly give voice to Christianne’s terrible loss.
Ebel’s presentation is a series of photographic prints she has created using an alternative darkroom printing process called Van Dyke. The prints are mounted on thin strips of wood, offering a natural suggestion of their subject, the construction of David’s home. These resulting handcrafted prints have a very warm brown hue and a feeling of a lost era.
The viewer knows the pictures are contemporary, but Ebel’s subject matter benefits from this alternative treatment. The warm depictions of commonplace activities provide a guileless and
approachable invitation to the viewer. Reflecting her photojournalist background, Ebel displays 118 of her images as small prints mounted linearly on the wooden strips as if they were strips of film. The size of these smaller prints contrasts with four larger 13”x19” prints that Ebel has mounted on panels made from the same strips of wood joined into a clapboard pattern, again emphasizing that her subject is David and the building of his dream home.
Standing at the same distance when viewing the small prints, the viewer sees the larger prints at a level of scrutiny that commands attention. The three large intimate portraits, centered between the strips of smaller images, best attest to Ebel’s artistic brilliance. They are portraits of the two men in the interior of the cabin, each featured singly in a photo and one photo where they appear together. The latter picture shows them lounging shirtless on an oldstyle sofa, its size allowing the two men to sit apart. David, with his head leaning back on his raised arm, looks at Justin whose gaze seems far away. Sunlight streams through the gaps between the logs of the cabin, not yet made weathertight, and bathes the men’s heads in a preternatural halo. The viewer, privileged with the knowledge of the fate of these two men, can not help but notice and feel the tension of the moment. The truth as to whether this tension is only the trick of a camera’s millisecond snapshot of what is surely a complex relationship, or a more truthful recognition of the inevitable moment yet to come, may forever remain a mystery.
Ebel promises that this gallery show is only the beginning of her exploring this experience through her art. An additional feature of her show is a video that she has created combining her digital photographs with an audio soundtrack of interviews of David during that week along with his singing and drum playing. She has also created a blog at 3000MilesAway.com for those who wish to know more.