What’s in Your Bag? Gallery Exhibit Takes a Look

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

PHILADELPHIA (Sept. 13, 2011) - Imagine a perfect stranger peeking into your personal bag to examine its contents. Provided their intentions were voyeuristic rather than criminal, how would you feel?

Philadelphia fine arts photographer Ellie Brown reveals her model’s relative ease or agitation with her investigation into the material culture contained in the bags they carry  – e.g., shoulder, backpack or gym – in her photographic installation “BAG,” which will be on exhibit at Saint Joseph’s University Gallery, Oct. 3-Nov.4. An artist’s reception will be held Thursday, Oct. 6, from 6-8 p.m. The Gallery will be closed Oct. 17-18 for the University’s Fall Break.

The 27 diptychs that comprise the exhibit are composed of two photographs: on one side, the model with his or her bag, and on the other, the bag’s contents. Underneath each diptych is a clear vacuum-packed bag containing the personal objects from the bag that the model “bequeaths” to the project. Additionally, all of the contents of the bag are cataloged under two categories: what the person was and was not willing to part with.

“Bags are the containers on our shoulders and backs that carry secrets and clues to our personalities and how we live day-to-day,” says Brown. “Whether these items are carried for comfort, hobby, work or practicality doesn’t matter. The important factors to highlight are why these particular items are chosen to be carried along with the physical body throughout the day, what is their history, how long will they stay on the person or be passed on, and how materially attached is the person to what they carry.”

“The BAG project is an innovative way to see tidbits of strangers’ lives,” says Jeanne Bracy, associate gallery director. “The uniformity of the diptychs and the simplistic style Brown employs forces the viewers to dissect not only the bag contents, but also the expressions of the individuals.”

Originally conceived of by filmmaker Camille Thoman, the BAG project has been shot in Philadelphia, New York City, Urbana, Ill., Glasgow, Mont., and Skagastrond, Iceland. According to Brown, the process of photographing someone with his or her bag becomes an intimate exchange for the time she and the subject work together.

During the photo session, the moment of truth occurs when Brown asks each model, “What are you willing to part with from your bag, today and forever?” Brown says some people give nothing, while others contribute trash, receipts, notes or other small objects.

“The areas to consider more thoroughly,” Brown says,  “are how difficult or easy it may have been for each model to part with the objects in the bag, what the objects they carry say about their socio-economic status and gender, and how all of the elements give us clues to the model’s identity.”

Brown received an M.F.A. from San Jose State University, and has exhibited her work nationally and internationally in single and group exhibitions. Her photographic study of her sisters, Two Girls: My Sisters 1996-2006, was published in 2008. She is currently the president of POP!sicle Artist Marketing.

Saint Joseph’s University Gallery is located in Merion Hall on the James J. Maguire ’58 Campus at 376 Latches Lane in Lower Merion, Pa. A campus map may be viewed online. Gallery hours are Monday through Friday, 9 a.m.-7 p.m., and Saturday, 10 a.m.-1 p.m. For more information, call 610-660-1840, or visit the gallery website at http://www.sju.edu/gallery.

Media Contact

Patricia Allen, Senior Associate Director of University Communications, 610-660-3240, patricia.allen@sju.edu

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