Photo and story by Emily Blalock / Contributing Writer
Students filled room 103 of the Bragg Building on Tuesday night to hear Gloria Baker Feinstein’s lecture about her photographic work.
The event began at 6:30 p.m. and was followed by a reception in the Baldwin Photographic Gallery, where her work is displayed. Feinstein’s lecture was accompanied by a slide show presentation of her images, including many that weren’t included in the gallery upstairs.
Feinstein’s photo gallery collection, entitled “Hope In All Things,” featured images from different years in her life and displayed a wide range of photographic methods, including black and white as well as colored images, shot on both film and digital cameras at different times.
Jackie Heigle, an MTSU photography professor and curator for the Baldwin Photographic Gallery, began the event by introducing Feinstein and thanking Herald Baldwin, who started the photography program at MTSU in 1959 and the Baldwin Photo Gallery in 1964.
Feinstein began her lecture by telling the story of her first camera, a Kodak Rocket Brownie, which she was using before the age of three. She described how she took her first photographs of her stuffed bunny, before moving on to capture her family vacations and friends.
“Satisfied with that first shoot, I attached the plastic strap to my wrist, and my life as a photographer began,” she said. “Honestly, I don’t think much has changed over these 62 years. It’s likely I brought the viewfinder to my eye over and over again as a child for the same reasons I do today.”
However, there was a time when Feinstein did set her camera down. After graduating from the University of Wisconsin in 1979 with a Master of Arts in Photography and Graphic Design, Feinstein opened The Baker Gallery in Kansas City and spent the next 10 years of her life exhibiting fine art photography by artists such as Walker Evans, Robert Doisneau, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Diane Arbus and Helen Levitt.
On her 40th birthday, Feinstein picked up her camera again. Inspired by the work of the artists featured in her gallery, she began making her own images once more.
“I realize now that putting a frame around the people and places that made up my world was compelling because it allowed me to look more closely, more carefully, at everything around me,” she explained.
She began relearning her passion for capturing images by photographing people in her neighborhood and attending workshops of artists who inspired her. She made photographs every single day. She explained how she was also drawn to the immediacy and honest unpredictability of street photography.
“Making photographs then and now allows me to connect with, or pull back from, people and places pretty much on my own terms. Lifting a viewfinder to my eye, I discovered at an early age, let’s me get closer to my world by lingering on it, studying it and carefully considering it in a slow methodical way. The camera gives me license to take my time,” she said.
Feinstein was reminded of why she fell in love with photography in the first place: not only to capture the people in her life and places she encountered, but also to understand the world.
“It was affirming, because it was the perfect way to commemorate and preserve the details of my life. It was challenging because it gave me the opportunity to arrange lines and shapes within the frame. And it was rewarding, because it satisfied my hunger for a deeper insight into my world and a fuller understanding of how I fit into it,” she explained.
Feinstein described how the process of photography has helped her through difficult times of uncertainty in her life, including the death of her mother, the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, and the most recent presidential election in 2016, a time when she felt she lacked control and felt a sense of darkness and absence of hope in the division of the country.
She began to capture images at a fountain near her home in Portland, Oregon, every day during the golden hour before the sun went down. She described her work as “several shades darker than usual,” but she looked for signs of hope within the images.
It was from this feeling of hopelessness that her most recent project, ”Dreams and Other Things,” stemmed from. Unlike her projects of the past, this body of work included digitally manipulated images with layers of filters that depict scenes of hope and allow her to feel in control.
She has also spent the last eight years capturing the childhood wonder of her grandchildren.
“This ongoing series of photographs addressed the illusive, the enigmatic, the transcendent and the poetic instances that happen all around me when I’m in the presence of my grandchildren,” she said. “The challenge in this project, as in any other, is to seek out the seemingly mundane occurrences, bring them to light and then render them extraordinary, and beautiful, and haunting, and sad, and celebratory and mysterious. It requires looking closely, always paying attention.”
Bringing the lecture to a close, Feinstein explained that in 2007 she founded “Change the Truth,” a non-profit organization that has raised over $1 million in the last 10 years to help children in Uganda with food, medical care and emotional support. She uses her photography to raise awareness and bring attention to the beauty and hope of the Ugandan people, as well as the needs of the community.
Leah Patton, a sophomore at MTSU and a psychology major, attended the lecture for a class she is taking for her photography minor.
“The biggest takeaway is to follow your dreams and do what makes you happy,” Patton said.
Feinstein ended her lecture by answering questions from audience members, and offering advice to student photographers.
“I photograph with a deep sense of wonder, respect, curiosity and compassion. The pictures I made provide a roadmap of where I’ve been, and thoughts of new pictures stretch out before me like a string of bright lights, leading me to the next destination,” Feinstein said. “If you’re true to yourself, and you find your voice, you can continue to do that and hopefully make an income. And that’s kind of the goal.”
Feinstein’s work will be on display in the Baldwin Photographic Gallery until March 8, from 8:30 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. on Mondays through Fridays.
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