Living in the dark(room)


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In a world in which photographers work in the digital fortress of computers, Kelli Connell enjoys working in a darkroom.

“Sitting at a computer [editing photos] holds a little less magic,” she said.

The assistant professor of photography at Columbia College in Chicago fell in love with working in a darkroom and developing photos step-by-step. Not only does she see the physical stages of developing a photo, she views it as a social experience; she converses with other photographers and sees what they work on.

Connell, a UI visiting artist in photography, will host a discussion in E105 Adler Journalism Building at 7 p.m. today. Her subject matter will include her award-winning photography project titled Double Life.

The collection of photographs features the same model but multiplied to portray the many sides of relationships that people have — as well as who a person is when no one is looking. The ongoing project captures the change and maturation of the subject matter as well what Connell sees in life.

The photos range from scenes of flirtation to demonstrations of being comfortable with one’s age.
Kiba Jacobson, the model featured in this project, had known Connell for many years, and she is a photographer as well. So she knew the many aspects needed to create a piece of art.

“She understands what I need in a photo,” Connell said.

Jacobson’s looks also appealed to Connell, because her neutral features allowed her to play numerous roles.

“The combination of being generic and androgynous as well as a gifted actor is very important,” Connell said. “She has a natural gift for photography.”

Connell began photography during basic classes and yearbook work in high school. When she began her undergraduate degree at the University of Northern Texas, she was uncertain about what area she wanted to make a career in. At first, she gravitated toward commercial photography, but once she learned more about the different potentials of working with the medium, she began to study it as a fine art. She received an M.F.A. from Texas Women’s University in 2003.

John Freyer, a UI assistant art professor, has displayed the Texas native’s work in his classes for many years, because he finds her work conceptually interesting. It’s beneficial to photography students to see a large-scale project not based on a deadline, he said.

“Very often, students work on short-term projects,” he said. “It is healthy for students to see work that’s taken a long time to create.”

Many group exhibitions have included her body of work, nine years in the making. Although the work has occasionally been broken up for many exhibitions, it still has an evolving concept from the first photo to the last.

“What I have to say about the self has changed,” Connell said. “People can see that in earlier and later photos.”

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