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Finding Focus: The 20-Somethings At Paper Crane Gallery

A Three-Ring Circus Of Creativity

Every December for over a decade, the Bloomington community has been treated to an ebullient burst of creativity from student photographers at Indiana University.

In an impressive example of town/gown partnership, the BFA photography students coordinate an ambitious exhibition annually in a downtown space that may or may not be an official art gallery. The shows, which usually last just one night, have gained a certain notoriety over the years, attracting large crowds and offering a three-ring circus of creativity.

But what might look like a lot of tomfoolery has proven to be a creative crucible, and a professional incubator for each year's crop of emerging artists.

Collaboration Boosts The Learning Curve

Photography professor Osamu James Nakagawa suggested the idea of exhibiting outside the university to his first group of BFAs at IU in 1998."This [exhibition] bonds the group," he explains.

The students take care of all the legwork and paperwork involved in finding an appropriate venue, arranging their tenancy, and organizing the exhibition. "The learning curve goes up, because they start to trust each other, and they start to listen to each other," Nakagawa says.

The Face Of Young Adulthood

This year, the eleven members of the BFA photography program collaborated in a series of photo shoots staged at various downtown locations, from the Buskirk-Chumley Theater to the Volunteers in Medicine Clinic. The results of this collaboration will be showcased in this year's show, which is called The 20-Somethings.

The show extrapolates from an essay that appeared in The New York Times in August 2010 that addressed the changing face of young adulthood. "People are living longer, so now we've got this group that's delaying everything," explains BFA photographer Elaine Miller. "We're not having kids as soon; we're not getting married; we need to stay on healthcare longer."

Elaine addresses her twenty-something ambivalence in the shot she directed for the show. The shot is staged in a pizzeria in downtown Bloomington. The subject wears a mortarboard while she's waiting tables, her many diplomas adorning every available surface.

Balancing Lights, Balancing Personalities

The constructed, cinematic nature of this scenario is a function not only of the staging and the props, but, significantly, of the way the scene is lit. The BFA photographers learned about professional lighting over the course of the semester; the slick, commercial-looking images in The 20-Somethings show speak to the students' mastery of those techniques.

The challenge of balancing lights for a shoot was matched by the balancing of personalities. All eleven photographers participated in each of the shoots, trading roles of gaffer, lighting tech, stage manager, model, director, and so forth, each time.

Professionals Notwithstanding

Looking at the photos in The 20-Somethings, a viewer might pick up on the group's own sense of their immaturity and rudderlessness. One picture shows a college graduate moving back home to room with his little sister; in another a mother dangles her adult son like a puppet in a doctor's waiting room.

Just don't tell anyone that these twenty-somethings know to light a commercial photo shoot, mount an exhibition, and get eleven different artists to work as a team.

It might spoil their image.

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