On Wednesday, the University Galleries will be hosting an Artist Talk lead by Rhondal McKinney, photography professor emeritus and founder of the Rural Documentary Collection (RDC) currently displayed in its exhibition halls.
The Rural Documentary Collection was started by McKinney in order to “represent the reality of rural people as they try to hold together communities” at the same time that economic and governmental situations threaten their livelihood.
He will also discuss the foundation of the project, how he worked with students, stories about his own photographs and videos, information about the other artists in the show and a framework for why this type of work is important.
It is one thing to visit the galleries and to see an artists’ collection, but rarely can people have a chance to meet the artist. Hearing someone speak about their own creative project, especially one that they have been passionate about for more than 20 years, is an enlightening and exciting experience.
According to Kendra Paitz, curator of exhibitions at the University Galleries, there are more than 800 photographs in the collection, which has been an ongoing collaboration with many MFA students here at ISU since McKinney started it in 1988.
Because of the sheer number of photographs and videos included in the project, “the images in the exhibition are only a representative sample of the Rural Documentary archive,” Paitz said. “The main part of Gallery 1 serves as an encapsulation of the Rural Documentary Collection.”
Though the RDC is currently the main occupier of the galleries, joining it are photographs of rural McLean County between 1918 and 1926, taken by Clara Brian, the first home-extension worker in the county.
Also displayed are other social documentary works created by current and recently graduated ISU art students, as well as portraits taken of attendees of this year’s McLean County Fair in order to provide a contemporary look at rural life in the area.
These are some of the newest additions to the collection and are important because “the Rural Documentary Collection has begun to shift from an exclusively rural focus to a social documentary focus,” Paitz said.
The photographs representing the project’s new focus can be seen in the three upstairs galleries.
This certainly is a collection for students and faculty to spend some time with at the galleries before it is gone. The RDC is a decades-long tradition, and it is important that we, as a community, appreciate the work that ISU faculty and students before us have done to make our community a unique one.
A goal of the recent and current photographers working on this project is to enable the audience to feel like we know and understand the people in their portraits.
“The photographs and videos were taken in many different locations,” Paitz said. “The photographers developed relationships with the people they were photographing — from Nancy Seisel’s photographs on a dairy farm in Cairo: to Beatrix Reinhardt’s photographs at Wildwood Campground in Ellsworth: to Juli Reitan’s photographs in multiple states as she worked with the Castillo’s, a family of migrant farm workers.”
This is the first time the RDC has been displayed in the University Galleries, and it will remain on display until October 13.
The Artist Talk with Rhondal McKinney will take place at 4 p.m. on Wednesday in the University Galleries. A reception will be held from 5 to 7 p.m. on October 4 in the Galleries.
Both events are free and open to the public.