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‘Waiting’ Prompts Collaborative, Cross-Country Exhibition

05/24/16

It’s a common occurrence. You go to a restaurant but have to wait to be seated, so you’re given a digital device that lights up and vibrates to notify you when your table is ready.

Joseph Ostraff, a professor of fine art at Brigham Young University (BYU) in Provo, Utah, found himself in just that situation a year or two ago when he decided to take a photo of that disk, and some lights overhead, to help pass the time outside the Brazilian barbecue eatery where he planned to dine.

That was the beginning of what was to become a collaborative exhibition opening this week between MCLA and BYU, “Waiting: A Compilation of Camera Phone Photography.”

The incident at the restaurant, said Ostraff (top right), “opened me up to thinking about what we do while we’re waiting.”

“I started taking pictures whenever I was waiting,” he continued. “I made a few prints, entered a few shows, and got in. I thought, ‘This idea’s got legs.’ It was a spontaneous thing at first, and then it took off from there.”

How did two universities separated by nearly 2,300 miles connect and decide to collaborate?  Ostraff’s son Joshua teaches art at MCLA.

According to Maggie Kase ’17 of Newtown, Conn., a double major in arts management and English literature, “Waiting” is a show that’s accessible to everyone. “Which really excites me, and I think the cross-country collaboration illustrates that,” she said. 

Kase (bottom right) aims for a curatorial career. As the curatorial intern for MCLA Gallery 51 last semester, hers was the charge to research the show’s theme and the camera phone medium. She also planned the appearance and organization of the exhibition space.

For Kase, the photographic art show marks her debut as a curator, and allows her to use her education in a practical, real-world setting.

“My favorite part of the exhibition is the fact that it really taps into the community,” Kase said. “It’s an art form that is accessible to anyone, and everyone was able to participate in it and make beautiful art. I think that will be something that the community will really hone in on.”

Because most people take photos with their phones, Kase expects the community will easily identify and connect with the art on display. Both MCLA students and members of the local community contributed photos to the exhibit.

All of the photos – nearly 1,000 in total – also collected from BYU students and other Utah-based communities – will be used. They will be displayed as 4-inch square, color images.

“It’s whatever people see as they’re waiting,” Ostraff said. “Everything I’ve seen so far is very broad because people find themselves waiting in all sorts of situations.”

Ostraff is “thrilled” to work with MCLA and the Northern Berkshire community, and looks forward to seeing the diversity of photos in the show. 

“We live in a time when the images that we capture on our phones have become such a strong, democratic voice. I love it because all participants are equally valued. There is no way to measure who’s older or younger, or who has or doesn’t have a certain skill set. It’s all about what they see and what they think,” Ostraff said. “It puts everyone on equal ground.”

Ostraff and three of his BYU students are in North Adams this week, joining MCLA students and professors in preparing the exhibit and participating in its opening on Thursday, May 26, from 5-7 p.m. in MCLA Gallery 51. “Waiting” will remain on display through June 24.