Michael Schwalbe, a photographer and professor of sociology at N.C. State, illuminates the untold story of labor through his 25 black-and-white photo exhibit, “A View to the Making: Portraits of North Carolina Craft Artists at Work.”
For Schwalbe, it is his responsibility as a sociologist to share the happenings of the social world with humanity.
GO TO THE EXHIBIT
When: Until November 10
Location: Durham Arts Council, 120 Morris Street, Durham, N.C.
“Not everyone gets the chance to go to an artist’s studio and see what they look like, see what they do, see what their work process looks like,” he said. “But I can do that. That’s one thing I can do as both a photographer and a sociologist.”
This was one of his goals in taking and presenting the photographs.
The subjects of his photographs formed from his classification of five traditional materials: wood, glass, clay, fiber and metal. He began his search to find artists working with these particular materials through recommendations from friends. Through his interactions with those artists, he was able to find more artists to photograph. Additionally, he found some of his subjects through his observation of their work in galleries.
All of the artists photographed are from central North Carolina.
Schwalbe interviewed all of the artists about their work processes, how they came to do what they do, problems they face, along with other questions regarding their work. He included excerpts of these interviews along with each photo.
“There is only so much you can see in a photograph that you can’t get from words, which is why the photograph is important, but there are aspects of the thought process that you can’t discern in a photograph,” Schwalbe said.
His goal is for those who visit the exhibit to understand some of the thought process that goes into making craft works.
As today’s society continues to become more consumer-based and dependent upon outside production, the story of process that Schwalbe presents becomes increasingly important and rare.
María DeGuzman, a conceptual photographer and an English professor at UNC, said the photographs highlight the importance of labor and speak to Schwalbe’s concern with labor.
“In capitalist societies, there is a tendency to hide labor or hide the actual labor that it takes to make something,” DeGuzman said.
Schwalbe has taken the modern idea of labor and concerns with it further than the story presented within the photographs. He organized two panels at the Durham Arts Council to further discuss the concept of craft and process.
Bernie Herman, a UNC American studies professor, spoke on one of the panels. He identified society’s issues with craft work and the way Schwalbe’s exhibit serves to counter the issue.
“The issue is that when folks collect craft, or studio craft, they are collecting the object which is the residue of process. Craft is really (very) much about process,” Herman said. “What he does in his exhibition is to remind us in very compelling ways about the significance of the making of things and the thinking of things.”
The exhibition provides what is often the missing story.
“They are very high-quality photographs. The photographs and the text narratives have been put together with a great deal of care,” DeGuzman said about the exhibit.
“It inspires us to take our craft seriously, whatever that craft is, whether it’s writing, drawing, painting, tinkering on a musical instrument, whatever it is.”
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