Imagine making a list of the most important people you have known in your life. It sure is hard to come up with that many people, let alone decide who the most important ones are.
Make sure to list your first grade teacher who taught you how to read, and your dentist who pulled out your first cavity. And if you never had a cavity, you might want to list your seventh grade basketball coach who told you to never give up.
If you survive the listing process and are still eager to continue with this project, then track down all the people on your list and take pictures of them. You heard me. Now get to work.
If you think listing and tracking those people down is hard, that’s probably a good thing because someone has already beaten you to the punch.
Photographer Betsy Schneider, assistant professor at Arizona State University, has set out to do just that – the listing, tracking, and photographing of the most important people who have shaped her past life. For Schneider, the list is “400 people,” which is also the name of her show. The list is so long she hasn’t finished photographing them all.
Four walls in the Mills College Art Museum are currently displaying 197 of the 400 most important people in Schneider’s life.
Stepping into the exhibition is like flipping through one of those old family albums that you’d find on a coffee table or a living room shelf. And just like your family photo album, Schneider’s photographs have that personal feel.
The expressions of Schneider’s subjects hold nothing back. They want you to know how they feel and what they think.
In Schneider’s artist statement, surrounded comfortably by an array of photographs right as one enters the show, she writes, “I am interested in the ways in which we connect with people and understand ourselves in terms of these relationships.”
These photographs have a reflective quality about them because the subjects seem to be reacting to their environments, the photographer herself, and even their prospective viewers.
These photographs are about people sharing who they are—people who want you to take them seriously, make you laugh, make you think, and make you question.
Their formal qualities are the same. Mostly headshots, and occasionally some full body shots, are the centers of the viewer’s visual interest.
Schneider’s states, “I use natural light, color film and a 60-year-old 4×5 field camera that once belonged to my grandfather.”
She left the decisions of how to pose and what to wear up to her subjects. Sara Jacobsen, a junior, who attended the opening reception on Feb. 9 remarked, “She captured each person’s essence in every photograph. This made each photograph compelling on an individual level and compelling as a series.”
Tracking down the people from her past wasn’t as easy as just going for a 20-minute drive to a nearby neighborhood.
Photographing this project has taken her all around the world to places like London; some people she had not contacted in decades.
As Schneider reflects, these photographs have added another dimension to the relationship between her and these people from her past, for, “each shoot is an event that adds a conceptual and performative layer of our relationship and this work.”
If you’ve ever wondered about what the most important people in your past are doing currently, as you’re slaving away in college (and/or partying), Schneider’s exhibit is definitely for you.
In senior Leimomi Gorsich’s words, “These are amazing autobiograph[ical] pictures and they make you wonder what your life would look like if you did the same thing – who the people would be.”
400 People will be on display in the Art Museum thru March 6.