Exhibition Reviews | Visual Arts

what I thought I saw

what I thought I saw is an evolving photo/essay book designed to catch you off guard. It’s also an exhibit that challenges the way you look at people and the assumptions you make about them. And most of all, it’s a concept that makes you question how much you really know about how you see the world.

Here is a case in point: you look at the photograph of an attractive young man in a football uniform and maybe speculate that he grew up to marry a cheerleader, have several children and live a charmed life. But you would be wrong – Derrick* did marry and become a father, but several years ago he surgically became Jessica*, and recently elected to become Derrick again.

Or, you could see the photograph of a high-powered lawyer and idly wonder what kind of home life she has while working 65 hours a week. Whatever life you imagined, however, probably wouldn’t include “happily married polygamous wife responsible for earning money to help raise her and her sister-wives’ 35 children.”

And then there’s the photograph of a former Playboy Bunny enticing you with a big smile. Maybe you think she is whiling away her days reminiscing about rowdy parties in Hugh Hefner’s mansion. But are you wrong?

These and others are the people who populate the world of Kim Silcox, Peta Owens-Liston, Amy Albo, and Sasha Polak, two writers and two photographers who want you to stop for a moment and question your certainty about what you think you see. A selection of photographs and essays from their (unpublished) book will be on display at Art Access Gallery March 21 – April 11, 2008.

what I thought I saw is the “heartchild” of photographer Kim Silcox. |0| She says she conceived of the idea after taking an “Artist’s Way” class at the Tao Institute with Rick Graham. Silcox recalls looking around at her classmates and wondering why they were all wearing masks and so afraid to share themselves with others. In fact, Silcox’s first idea was to write a book called “Fear,” which would examine the reluctance humans have to reveal their innermost thoughts and experiences. This was the seed that grew into what I thought I saw.

Silcox mulled the project over on her own until a year and a half ago when she heard about a mother at her kids’ school who is a writer for Time Magazine. She approached Peta Owens-Liston |1|and outlined the idea. “The premise of the book just hooked me,” says Owens-Liston. “I loved the idea of breaking down stereotypes and giving people a chance to understand others. It’s sort of like taking black and white views and wildly shaking them up so they get all grey.”

Owens-Liston asked if she could talk to Amy Albo, |2| another mother at the school. Albo was also intrigued with the project and offered to do some of the writing and editing. Sasha Polak |3| is the latest recruit and has one photograph in the exhibit.

what I thought I saw gained momentum about a year ago when Silcox secured funding from the Jarvis and Constance Doctorow Family Foundation. She and Owens-Liston immediately started brainstorming about whom they might interview, and spent days (and nights) surfing the internet looking for possibilities. Silcox, in particular, has joined several online forums so she can participate in discussions and meet people virtually. For instance, she recently joined “Inked, Inc.,” a group of tattoo aficionados that includes Douglas*, a straight-laced litigator who sports elaborate tattoos on most areas of his body covered by long pants and a shirt. Silcox is still hoping to convince him to be a part of the book.

Silcox and Owens-Liston met Logan through a reference from friends. Logan is a Salt Lake resident who has a rare condition called Miller’s Syndrome that includes hearing difficulties, numerous physical disabilities, and trouble with depression. He is often approached by people as if he had a severe mental disability, but in fact he is a very intelligent person and talented artist. Logan says of his condition, “I wear on the outside what most people wear on the inside.”

Silcox and Owens-Liston share responsibility for each story they write and photograph. They both talk to the person ahead of time, Silcox sets up a 4-5 hour photo shoot, and Owens-Liston follows with several hours of interviewing. “These people share so much of themselves with us and then send us away with new insights and a more open mind.” says photographer Silcox. “When I’m taking their photographs, I calm myself by recalling what my dad, a photographer, always told me: ‘Kim, the beauty is already there, you just have to capture it.'”

what I thought I saw will eventually profile up to 20 people. If you have any ideas or thoughts about the project, please email ideas@whatithoughtisaw.com. A selection of photographs and essays from the (unpublished) book will be on display at Art Access Gallery March 21 – April 11.

Names have been changed for privacy reasons.

received her B.A. in Psychology from Lewis and Clark College, and Masters in both Social Services and Law and Social Policy from Bryn Mawr College. She is an award-winning quilt artist and the Executive Director for Art Access.

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