Shifting our perspective on work and family, Mazgal exhibit highlights family dynamics
By Tessa Jillson
Often, ideas about work develop at a very young age. As a child, Jane Gottesman, founding director of Working Assumptions, said she regularly waited for her father to get home from work.
“Work was someplace, somewhere where my dad was, that was keeping us from eating dinner,” she said.
On Tuesday, Nov. 7, Gottesman presented her photography project, “Showing (work x family)” in the Mazmanian Gallery that focused on redefining the family.
In the summer of 2004, Gottesman said she was busy working and starting her own family.
In a hurry to get back home to Knish her work, Gottesman said she suddenly went into labor, and after hours of exertion, she had her baby in the middle of her own driveway.
“What in society would make me think that my pregnancy would be kind of like what I saw in the pictures? I thought a lot about the photographs and how the strange, multi-dimensional, unplanned way of life unfolds when you’re with your family,” she said.
A lot of times, photos capture clichéd assumptions of work and family, such as pictures of “the baby in the briefcase” or “the dad who doesn’t really know how to do diapers,” Gottesman said. “There was a kind of collective blank spot of distortion that has so much resonance, and so unlike the experience that I and people I knew were having.”
After thinking about pregnancy, Gottesman said she started her project, Showing (work x family) by photographing pregnant woman in the workplace. Eventually she expanded, capturing everyday family activities and dynamics.
Gottesman and her team, including co-curators Geoffrey Biddle and Trudy Wilner Stack, Senior Project Advisor Josianne Pennington and Exhibition Registrar Pat Evans, hired professional photographers to capture the overlap of work and family.
Gottesman later received word that a local high school was interested in her work, and students began to send in their photographs. The show presents works from more than 200 photographers and high school photography students.
Working Assumptions, Gottesman’s foundation, expanded the project, adding “wrkxfmly,” a multi-week assignment for high school photography students. Some of the Massachusetts high schools participating in the project were Algonquin Regional High School, Framingham High School, Salem High School and Concord Carlisle High School.
“It cracked the whole project open in this way that we really hadn’t anticipated. ... The work by the students really elevated the work by the professionals,” she said.
Two of Algonquin Regional High School photography teacher, Michelle Sheppard’s, students had their work showcased in the event.
According to Sheppard, the work took a big chunk of time out of the semester.
“I think they found the work a little exhausting, but I think that’s what real true work is. ... The pictures that they made were some of the most incredible pictures I’ve ever seen my Photo I kids make in a long time. It was really rewarding,” Sheppard said.
FSU Art History Professor Yumi Park Huntington said she could not tell the difference between the professional photos and the ones students took.
Photographer and filmmaker David Binder has three of his photographs in the showcase. On Monday, Nov. 13, Binder will lead a discussion with FSU Professor Leslie Starobin’s basic photography classes.
The talk is part of a six-week teach-in at FSU, during which 44 professors and 66 classes will discuss themes about family diversity and change as they are related to their courses.
Stack said, “The whole project is the valuing of the everyday. Those little things that add up to all of our everyday lives, whatever they may be, are of great value, and if we all value them collectively and politically, we can raise the level of everyone. But by overlooking them and insisting that they’re private ... we neglect ourselves as a society.”
Senior Bridget Green said since “the photos sit on the screen” for a prolonged period of time, it forces the observer to think deeply about the photos and Gottesman’s “inspiration” for the project.
Biddle said the show is organized by sub-folders of images “in terms of the arc of the day,” starting and ending at 4:11 in the morning. Pictures in each sub-folder appear randomly, so there isn’t a set juxtaposition.
Stack asked professors to encourage their students to carefully focus on the work. “Everything about the exhibition is intentional,” she said.
Gottesman said she really wanted to create something that “divides the space” to represent the detachment of work and family. Her team worked with designers to create a 28-foot, six-screen translucent wedge. On one side of the wedge there is no seating, while the other side has seating.
“We tried to play around with the furniture ... to encourage you to play with the equation of work,” Gottesman said.
Junior Suzanne Wright said on Sunday from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., she helped with the installation.
“It is such a valuable experience and gratifying to see,” she said.
The project’s soundscape consists of three parts – one guitar bump, musical beds and everyday sounds, such as a baby crying, said Biddle. The soundscape was made possible by musician Alicia Jones.
Senior Marina Coppola said the soundscape at first confused her. “The ‘Suit & Tie’ song started playing and at first, I was like, ‘Why is this playing?’ But then, an image appeared with a man wearing a suit and tie. ... It really made me think about working millennials.”
Stack said, “There is no message. There is no right way to receive it. We purposely made this an art experience. ... In art there is no didactic ... so each person has there own experience. .. We’re all different, but we’re all doing the same things.”