Picture this – Elizabeth (Lizzy) Wallen, class of 2020, will have her work featured in this year’s nationally recognized Photo Stories Exhibition in Rhode Island. Wallen is one of just 10 artists selected for the distinguished exhibit at the Rhode Island Center for Photographic Arts in Providence, Rhode Island, June 20-July 13.
Wallen, from Springfield and a graduate of Catholic Central, is an art major with a focus in photography. She is minoring in business and art history.
“After completing my ‘Phobias’ series for my advanced photography class, I decided to apply it to a call for entries,” said Wallen, who is also involved in Alpha Phi Omega here at Wittenberg. “I mainly did this on a whim, not really thinking I would get accepted but just trying to get my name out there. It was such an awesome feeling when I got the email from Rhode Island Center for Photographic Arts saying that I was invited to be in the Photo Stories exhibition. I love getting to show my art to other people, and I’m so grateful for this opportunity. Photography is definitely part of my future. After Wittenberg, I am hoping to go to grad school to receive my MFA in photography and to have my photography shown in many more galleries and possibly be a professor one day.”
Photo Stories is a juried exhibition featuring 10 projects on display. The opening reception will be held on June 20 from 5 to 9 p.m. The projects were selected by Michael Itkoff, co-founder of Fabl and Daylight Books, both non-profit organizations dedicated to publishing art and photography books. The exhibition explores photography as a storytelling medium, presenting ideas and concepts that cannot easily be represented in a single image.
Wallen said that her series “is meant to bring awareness to phobias. Many people do not realize that having a phobia can actually cause anxiety or panic attacks. Certain phobias are seen as ridiculous or petty, while the ones afraid are truly suffering.”
Her goal is for viewers to examine these photos deeply and think about what someone with these fears might think or feel.
“To me, photography is an expression of the mind,” Wallen said. “I love abstract and surreal art, and I use surrealism in my photography. In my opinion, surrealism allows you to portray a thought or feeling instead of something you already see in front of you. Photography is truthful, as in you can take a picture and see exactly what is in front of you. Or you can take that picture and change it in order to make something new. For example, in my ‘Phobias’ series, I used long exposure or ‘Photoshopped’ images in order to portray feelings of fear, being overwhelmed, or anxiety.”
“It is an enormous honor for an undergraduate student to be selected to exhibit among professional artists in a venue such as the Rhode Island Center for Photographic Arts,” said Elena Dahl, assistant professor of art at Wittenberg. “All of the artists chosen by juror Michael Itkoff are known for the marvelous stories their photographs tell, and I am very excited for the public to experience Lizzy's contribution to this exhibition. Lizzy developed the series over the course of the Spring 2019 semester in advanced photography. From the outset of her proposal, her conceptual focus was strong and compelling. She was interested in how the medium of photography, which is often associated with objective reality, could visualize something at the unconscious level. In her series, a wide range of phobias play out, inviting viewers to wonder at what is real and what is constructed within the images, both technically and conceptually. Through this engagement, viewers can reflect upon the things they are afraid of, questioning the power of their own imaginations.”
Wallen’s focus used to be on nature photos, but she found she was good at other parts of photography through some of her classes at Wittenberg.
“In my digital photography class, we had an assignment to do portraits, which I wasn’t a huge fan of doing because I wasn’t very good at them,” she said. “This really pushed my limits. Though it was a challenge for me, I really enjoyed it. I was kind of shocked that I chose to take portraits for my ‘Phobias’ series in advanced photography, even if they were different than traditional portraits. When it comes to photography, I like to look for what is different and what can be turned into an image that really makes you think.”
Wallen’s images for the show are also a distortion of reality, which will force the viewer to look at the image multiple times and try to decipher what is happening. Additionally, she said she was strongly inspired by old black and white horror films, such as Robert Wise’s The Haunting (1963), due to their ability to allow the viewer to use their imaginations and, in a sense, create their own fear. View some of them here.
Wallen, who originally came to Wittenberg as marketing major, fell in love with the art department and photography. She credits her love of photography to her aunt, Violet Strahler, who graduated from Wittenberg in 1944.
“While she focused on math, science and education, she always referred to herself as an amateur photographer. She was a remarkable woman, and I really looked up to her,” Wallen said. “You really never saw her without a camera. She took photos of everything, and I remember how much joy that brought her.
“Everyone always told me how good at science and math I was, just like my Aunt Vi … but I wanted to be a photographer,” Wallen continued. “She was the one person who understood, and I remember she bought me a book all about photography for my birthday. She knew that the arts were just as important as science and math, and she passed that down to me. And as much as I looked up to my Aunt Vi, I, of course, wanted to go to school where she did. My papaw also took me to every single Wittenberg basketball game since I was a baby, so I wanted to go to Wittenberg ever since I was a kid. I am honestly so grateful for Wittenberg and everything this school has offered me. I know that I wouldn’t be in this position without the amazing professors at Wittenberg, especially in the art department.”