September 20 - October 22, 2021
The last semester of senior year can be a time of reflection and reinvention, a summing up of accomplishments and a launching pad towards a new beginning. These portraits are a snapshot of Pomona College art majors at this time in a college career.
Though some of our students head directly to graduate school, the bulk of our majors throw themselves into unknown territories and new experiences. During the last semester, when they are formulating a body of work for a senior thesis, they are also grappling with the idea of imminent freedom. After sixteen years (or more) of school, they will be making their own schedules, figuring out life for themselves. For some this is exciting; for others terrifying.
I started making portraits of graduating art majors during the spring semester of my first year teaching at Pomona College. The portraits are collaborative. I ask students to choose a location that they’d like to be photographed in and to choose something to wear, and we go from there. I’ve made photographs in dorm rooms, off-campus homes, parking lots, restaurants, and familiar campus spaces. Some students want to completely art direct their photograph; others are happy to relinquish control of their image. Some students care a lot about this project, while others merely participate.
For me, the process of making these photographs is an opportunity to get to know our majors a little better, a long term project for our department, and a photographic challenge. I am aware of the power imbalance that is embedded in all photographic portraits, and especially in this project. Because of my role in the department, the dynamic between subject and photographer is tilted. By allowing the students as much agency as possible in the process, I attempt to even out this power dynamic. I know it’s an impossibility, but it’s something I think about a lot. I aim to represent students as they want to be represented, to make a portrait that reflects the certainty and questions about who they are at a fleeting moment just prior to a shift in their day to day realities. We work together to choose the final portrait, and the student is given a print at the department luncheon during commencement weekend.
I’ve been doing this project for ten years now, and I’m grateful to all the students who have given their time and energy to help to create these pictures. I always learn something new about each student while we spend time together and I’m honored to have been invited into homes and lives beyond the classroom.
Lisa Anne Auerbach