Ben Weis: Photography is up to the imagination

The Colburn Gallery has had many exhibits showcasing a variety of student voices, faces and subjects in an array of media. It is a feat for any student artist using the space to give little to no identity to their work, yet cause an infinite amount of ideas in response. In this regard, senior Ben Weis has chosen to keep the walls white, and his work an even more interpretative canvas. On Wednesday, Feb. 2, Weis revealed his most recent photography collection, opening at the Colburn Gallery. The beauty of the gallery is how manipulated it becomes by the artist’s hands.  Weis keeps the display in stark contrast, a repeated element to his black, white and grayscale prints.   They are framed by white and industrially cornered into the walls with four stainless steel nails. Neither titles nor descriptions were to be seen and, as for the subjects of the photos, that was up for grabs. “I like it because initially it didn’t evoke a feeling in me,” gallery observer Anna Smith said. “[But] as I looked at it and considered what it could be, I appreciated it.” Arriving with a friend, Smith grasped a climactic concept behind Weis’ work: Without previous knowledge, the imagination leads us to our own ideas. The textural elements of gritty surfaces like minerals and rock faces give sharpness to the images. One sees a photo and immediately, without that description, his or her mind goes to work looking for clues as to its identity. In one picture, Smith saw a cliff face, and in that same photo an aerial landscape, mineral deposits and snow on a windshield.   Ironically dressed in a brightly colored fleece, Weis began his opening discussion. “Nothing needs to be added — no titles — or give away what it is.  [It is] important to not be exhaustive.” On revealing what each subject was, he politely declined.   Jean Paul Sartre’s “The Imaginary” inspired the photography. The only words in the room are taken from the French existentialist philosopher, directing the viewer according to Weis’ vision around the gallery. During the talk, Weis referred to the two separate processes of his artistic endeavor: the creation and the analysis afterwards. “Seeing it as a whole body of work is new to me,” Weis said. He toys playfully with the imagination being a concept of totality to the mind, as the photographs can either embody that or not.   There is no sense of scale to them and guests wondered aloud how large or how small each object could be. “They expand beyond the place, beyond the photography,” observer Brian Whitney said. So when academic knowledge becomes exceedingly concrete, the Colburn Gallery can reorient you with the power of imagination and how tangible that can really be.