October 4, 2022
Ithaca, NY | 50°F


Rebuilding stories

A brick was missing in the sidewalks of Moscow. A Heineken bottle cap and a used cigarette butt lay in its place. The scene may not appear to hold any deep message, but then again, it’s not supposed to.

Nicholas Muellner and Ron Jude, assistant and associate professors of cinema, photography and media arts, talk at their exhibit’s opening last Thursday in the Handwerker Gallery. Emma Strachman/The Ithacan

The picture was taken by Nicholas Muellner, assistant professor of cinema, photography and media arts. Currently on display at the Handwerker Gallery, it is part of Muellner’s photography series, “Moscow Plastic Arts,” which showcases the reconstruction of Moscow in 2003. He said he intended to create pictures that hold no hidden meaning.

“They’re incredibly accidental but incredibly formal at the same time,” Muellner said.

The other end of the gallery displays reproductions of newspaper photographs taken during the past 10 years by Ron Jude, associate professor of cinema, photography and media arts. These photographs are part of Jude’s “Alpine Star” series. One of his photographs shows a small-town theme with a man, woman and child in front of haystacks in a field. Jude said his exhibit attempts to recreate narrative from his hometown’s newspaper in Idaho.

“Sequencing is everything,” Jude said. “It has everything to do with my work.”

Muellner’s and Jude’s projects are displayed together for “Stubborn Things,” the gallery’s newest exhibit. Muellner said the series both convey a sense of loss and
detachment, and seem to be in conversation with one another.

Jude said he was interested in the narrative quality of the photographs and wants the audience to wrestle with their meaning.

“It takes a certain level of engagement on the part of the viewer,” Jude said.

Sophomore Dan Holmes said he saw storylines throughout the artists’ pictures. Looking at the dominant blue tone in all of Muellner’s photographs, Holmes said he got a sense of blue-collar workers. In both series, he said he saw hard-working people and the stories of their lives.

“Every picture is important, but in a very personal, small-town kind of way,” Holmes said.

Sophomore Diana Cowdery said she saw this common theme of narrative in the two series.

“They each had a story within them,” Cowdery said of Jude’s photographs. “So it was fun to imagine what was going on.”

Cowdery has taken classes with both Jude and Muellner, and recalled a lesson Jude gave in Intermediate Photography on how seemingly run-of-the-mill objects can still be visually engaging. She said she can see this approach in his work, even if the photography was not his own.

Likewise, Cowdery was impressed by the simplicity in Muellner’s photographs. She said by showing the reconstruction itself, in bricks and piles of dirt, he took a different and more interesting direction than if he had included people.

“[The series] both explore the more boring aspects, the more mundane aspects of life,” Cowdery said. “The simple things.”

Many of Muellner’s projects differ in approach, and this is his first series involving still-life photography.

“This work doesn’t look like any work I’ve made before,” Muellner said. “But they’re still intellectually and emotionally consistent with my other projects.”

Cheryl Kramer, director of the Handwerker Gallery, asked Muellner and Jude two years ago if they would show their work at the next available faculty exhibit for the Handwerker. She had noticed the photographers were exploring similar conceptual and formal ideas.

Kramer said both artists are trying innovative ideas in contemporary photography, with Jude’s presentation of new ideas to original images and Muellner’s application of 1960s minimalism.

“Because Ron and Nick are engaged with these … ideas of photography, I thought it would be good to bring that to the college and initiate a dialogue,” Kramer said.

Both exhibits have been on display before, with “Moscow Plastic Arts” at Arcadia University in Philadelphia and “Alpine Star” at the Eastman House in Rochester. However, Muellner’s and Jude’s works have never been displayed together prior to “Stubborn Things.” Having known each other for years and seen similarities in their works, both artists agreed it was only a matter of time before they were exhibited together.

Jude said he and Muellner are constantly pursuing new and different projects.

“We’re an art dealer’s worst nightmare,” Jude said. “We’re very hard to market, because we’re always changing gears. Unless you’re a really smart art dealer.”