This weeks Art Talk is by Russell Pirkle an avid NCLAC volunteer, artist, and arts advocate. An exhibit of works by Mandi Nikole Zimmer will open Wednesday December 7 from 5-7pm at 102: a Bistro. This exhibit, “Enlisted: Home & Away,” features portrait photography honoring American servicemen and women. Zimmer is a Tech graduate and works as a professional photographer in Baton Rouge, LA. The display will be intermixed with war memorabilia on loan from the Ruston military museum. This exhibit is presented by the North Central Louisiana Arts Council in association with 102: a Bistro.
Zimmer's photography of American soldiers depicts the hero at home, allowing the viewer to see the subjects, in Zimmer's words, “as they live their life today,” and allowing them “to share the environment they live in, their families, and their interests.” By photographing them in this way, Zimmer moves the focus from the fighting to what was fought for. Instead of an act of heroism, we see the life created after that heroism. Zimmer states, “Through the use of lighting, technique, location, and composition, it was possible to capture the joy, sadness, loneliness, losses, and gains each individual has experienced over their lifetime.”
Through these photos, we get a sense of who defends our country, in terms of their domestic and family life. We see their spouses, their hobbies, their choice of lamps. In a way, it is like the MTV Cribs treatment, but for people far more worthy of being celebrated, people who have risked their lives for our country.
This is a show about honoring our soldiers, and providing for the viewer a fuller picture of who they are as people. It establishes a common ground: Their dreams are our dreams, and their concerns are our concerns. In these photos we see people living the lives that we live, except that they have paid a price to make that way of life possible. Their sacrifice colors our reaction to the photographs. We see an image of a man and wife, well dressed, sitting in matching easy chairs, but our minds are on the psychological impact of war. This tension between the pleasant life portrayed and the confrontation with death overcome is what makes these works powerful and engaging.
The war memorabilia from the Military Museum on display alongside Zimmer's work gives us the other side of the coin. If Zimmer's photographs are as Zimmer states,“the stories of these men and woman told through the use of environmental photography,” these artifacts from the Military Museum operate in that same mode. They recreate for us the environment of the soldier and give us the story of the conflicts that defined and shaped the heroes portrayed in Zimmer's photographs. And as they do not retell or editorialize, they provide the perfect counternote to Zimmer's art.
Mandi Nikole Zimmer explains that this series “evolved from listening to an elderly neighbor talk about the commitments made by servicemen and women. Mr. Harry would sit for hours sharing stories of his time in World War Two. Over time, the reality of the sacrifices he and his fellow soldiers made became evident.” Though these photographs are primarily uplifting in nature, one cannot help but look for the evidence of sacrifice in the faces and lives of the soldiers portrayed. Zimmer claims to have, “through the use of lighting, technique, location, and composition,” captured “the joy, sadness, loneliness, losses, and gains each individual has experienced over their lifetime.”
What the photographs show first and foremost, however, is triumph. Heroes, these men and women have come through harrowing experiences to live beautiful and rich lives, as evidenced by Zimmer's beautiful and rich photography. This exhibit is a celebration of the American way of life those portrayed fought for.
What better time to celebrate the American way of life than the holiday season, and what better place than 102: a Bistro? Since it opened in April 2009, 102 has built a reputation as a place to experience great art and great food. More than just a restaurant, 102 is a unique cultural experience. While you enjoy the show, you can have a drink or have dinner. Hors d'ourves and wine will be served as well.
Mandi Nikole Zimmer will be at the opening to discuss the work. If you would like to buy a work in “Enlisted: Home & Away”, look for NCLAC Executive Director Leigh Anne Chambers at the reception, contact NCLAC at 318-255-1450, or stop by the Dixie Center for the Arts Tuesday through Friday between 9 a.m. And 2 p.m. We look forward to seeing you at the Bistro.