Sitting in a green plastic-leather chair, the sounds of milk steaming and espresso dripping surround me, and coffee scented air fills my nose. The familiar sensory experience of the Greenleaf Coffee Co-Op is another pleasant reminder that I am back at home, at Guilford, after a long and busy winter break. Today I am sitting with Junior Sam Metzner as we recap her recent January Term experience. Like many students (myself included) Sam took advantage of what Guilford had to offer over “J-Term” and what started as a course turned into a personal and artistic exploration. Sam was one in a small group led by Maia Dery on a study away course called Photography and a Sense of Place. Their goal was to examine how identity is influenced by location, but Sam wanted to look further into this. After traveling abroad and taking courses on nature and identity, Sam has come to a personal conclusion that identity and place are both fluid; they change and influence one another. If you ask her, she would say that this trip was a defining moment for her art and personal philosophy, all through her camera lens.
Above all, Sam’s love and talent for photography were the focus of her J-Term. As we talk and begin to look through her photographs, both film and digital, her descriptions become more detailed and her excitement about her work is palpable. She explains how she wasn’t in love with what she was photographing at first. The serene landscapes she came across were different and uninteresting compared to the dramatic sets she normally designs and photographs. As a conceptual artist, she could not find her place but after about a week, something clicked. Her concept could still be the focus of her work, but in a more subtle way, using what she has to work in her favor. What resulted was a beautiful black and white series, a few of which are shown below.
When I ask Sam what inspired her, especially when she was feeling stuck, she said that she went back to basics. Visiting such vastly different places, from Duplin County to Bald Head Island, she grasped onto the human element in each place. The treatment of water and therefore people in both places are exact opposites, providing a juxtaposition that could not be ignored. Through her photos, a portraiture series of the places she went, Sam showed this dichotomy. For instance, her photo of Duplin County community organizer Devon Hall (seen above) is stark yet graceful. His almost completely opaque silhouette is a poetic comment on the lack of care given to those who live in Duplin County. This backlit beauty is also perfectly aligned with Sam’s personal style of photography, even if it isn’t based in a studio. Her photos without human subjects are just as expressive, as we can see in the photo of the small house. This technique, which she calls tunnel vision, is eerily familiar. As an audience, we cannot quite grasp this place, but somehow we know it. With the simple twist of her lens, Sam brings this simple scene to an expressive portrait.
As the official end of J-Term approaches, with final papers being written and grades being returned, Sam is not exempt from creating closure on her trip. After we meet, she will continue to work on her final project, a narrative slide show summing up her body of work and personal ideology on place and identity. She also confirms comfortably that this body of work is not over and the inspiration she took away from this course will spill over to her semester long work in Photo II. Until her presentation is ready to go, be sure to check out her work currently up at the CVA and keep an eye out for her work around campus. Her photos are sure to stun.