Guest lecturer on photography shares stories behind his photographs

Katie Weiler October 20, 2017 0

During a photography lecture Thursday, Oct. 12, photographer Steven Rubin shared some of his projects and the scenarios of the people he had photographed.
As an associate professor of art in the Photography Department at Pennsylvania State University, it is no wonder Rubin has pursued a diverse amount of projects.

After Elizabethtown College professor of art Milt Friedly gave an informative introduction, which showed Rubin’s accomplishments, the audience welcomed Rubin to the stage of the Brinser Lecture Hall.

Rubin talked about some of his career history, such as his start as a journalist and his previous travels to South American countries under dictatorial rule. He explained his desire to make people more aware of under-recognized issues.

His presentation started off with his project called “Vacationland,” taken in a small town in Maine. After graduation, Rubin moved to Maine, where he honed his photography skills. He started taking pictures of typical Maine sights, such as fishing boats and lobster traps.

Taking pictures of real Maine-ers, or as the locals called them, “Maine-iacs,” caught his attention, and that is where his idea for the project came from. Rubin decided to visit a small, isolated town and get to know the locals before snapping pictures of them. Without a car, Rubin was left to hitchhike to the town, making what would have been an hour-long car ride take almost a full day.

Once he arrived and talked with locals, he was made aware of a small abandoned shack outside of town that had no electricity or heat but where it was free for him to stay. Once in the town, Rubin started on his project.

“There’s no formula or recipe; you just have to spend time with people,” Rubin said.

Rubin said he had to spend time around the people in the town until they became bored of him as an outsider and felt more comfortable.

Rubin noted this was especially important as an outsider with a camera. This sense of normalcy within the town allowed him to capture people in their true form and sometimes at the most vulnerable of times.

“There’s a sense of family and belonging,” Rubin said. The whole town lives close to each other, and the families and neighbors have been around for generations.

One of the first photos Rubin shared was of a boy named Harley, after the well-known motorcycle. For his 15th birthday, his father allowed him to drink freely. After drinking too much and getting very sick, Harley sat on the stairs with his head in his hands. This is when Rubin decided to take the picture.

“Whatever people did, I tried to tag along,” Rubin said. After the story behind the picture was given, there was a new level to the project.

He explained the internal conflict of taking pictures during intimate moments in a person’s life. He shared his thoughts through the question, “Do you have any moral obligation to be a human being first?”

On the other hand, he shared that as a photographer, he could not pass up the opportunity to capture those moments.

Senior Kim Holbert is currently in Friedly’s sculpture class and attended the lecture on Rubin’s work.

“I thought it was interesting to hear about the different projects he had done that promote peace,” Holbert said. She enjoyed looking at Rubin’s photography and was glad she had taken Friedly’s recommendation to attend.

Another project of Rubin’s that he shared was entitled “Phantoms of Lost Liberty: Immigrants in Detention.” With the help of a grant, Rubin was able to travel across the country visiting immigrants put behind bars.

Coordinating the visits to different facilities was hard, but when the 9/11 Twin Tower attacks happened mid-project, it was extremely difficult to continue getting access. Rubin shared that after 9/11, more immigrants were being detained, and this arguably made his project more intense.

One of the pictures in the project shared the story of a Sri Lankan man who had escaped a civil war by obtaining fake papers. He wished to go to Canada, but his flight stopped in Washington D.C., and he was promptly thrown in jail. After being held in a U.S. prison for five years, he was allowed to fly to Canada, as long as he did so right away.

Rubin then discussed the various reasons immigrants were locked up and how being held in jail used U.S. resources.

Approximately 90 percent of illegal immigrants do not have representation, according to Rubin. He shared that it is harder to get a lawyer since they either have to pay or wait for a lawyer to look at their case pro bono.

Afterward, Rubin continued by discussing his technique in photography and answered questions from the audience.
“I loved the ability to capture a fleeting moment,” Rubin said of the projects.

Both the Maine and immigrant detention projects shown were in black and white. Rubin shared that despite the fact the projects he shared were colorless, his project on fracking was in color.

Later in the night, members of the Etown community could visit the Bowers Writers House to see Rubin’s artwork from the fracking project on display.

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