BY KATI HENG
Ryan Stander’s art exhibit, “Objective Subjects,” now open in the Te Paske Gallery, contains hundreds of antique photographs. So many, in fact, visitors can spend hours in the gallery and never see them all.
“The exhibition came together from a couple different threads,” Stander, an Alton native who received his undergraduate degree in art from Northwestern College, said.
One of those threads originated in a flea market.
“There was a box with old photographs for sale,” Stander said. “In my family, photographs are precious; you wouldn’t put them up for sale. I worried why these people would be selling their memories.”
While at seminary following graduation, Stander thought deeply about memories, experiences and how each shape the way we interpret the world, our lives and the Bible.
He was influenced further while working as a photographer on the site of an archeological dig, taking photos of pieces of pottery and other objects.
“I saw thousands of objects put into trays with these cards full of coded information,” Stander said.
For his exhibit, Stander attempted to recreate that sterile museum environment, contrasting it with photos of families, children, pets and other scenes bursting with life.
Most of the photos featured in “Objective Subjects” were purchased off of eBay, often sold by the hundred or the thousand. Sometimes, though, Stander would buy a single photo by itself.
“I might buy it because of the subject matter, or if the photo was developed with a rare process,” Stander said. “For instance, in the 1860s and 1870s, photos were developed onto glass rather than onto paper.”
When a purchased box of photos arrives in the mail, Stander begins by thumbing through the photographs.
“It’s kind of like getting a package of baseball cards,” Stander said. “You never know what’s going to be inside.”
From there, he begins sorting the photographs into different themed trays, such as “Pets,” “Marriage Photos” and “Women in Dresses.”
“A majority of the photos go into a large bin for the big sorting trays you’ll find in the exhibit,” Stander said. “Then there are some I’ll pull out because they are so unique. I keep those for myself; they don’t go into any collection or exhibit.”
Although sellers on eBay will often advertise that their photos can be used for art, Stander doubts if any of the sellers know their photos are being featured in galleries, sorted through by hundreds of visitors.
“There is one buyer whom I bought thousands of photos from that I talked to,” Stander said. “I tried to explain to him what I was doing with the photographs, but he seemed more interested in selling to me than in hearing about my exhibit.”
Stander has never had a visitor recognize a photograph or a person in one, but he does wonder what their reaction would be if that ever occurred.
“I have wondered if they would they be upset,” Stander said. “I figure, once you buy something on eBay, it’s yours, so I think I’m allowed to do what I want with them.”
At the Grand Forks opening of his exhibit, audience members were kept from touching any photographs – even those teasingly placed into sorting racks or trays.
“I wanted to mimic a museum, where common visitors don’t get to touch the objects,” Stander said.
For the show at NW, Stander was wondering how to make the photo exhibit more participatory.
“I decided to put them out at NW and see what would happen,” Stander said. “When I showed up at the gallery opening, people were already looking through trays, sorting through the photographs. It was fun to see people shoulder-to-shoulder digging through the photos.”
To see the photos, visit Stander’s exhibit in the Te Paske Gallery of the Korver Visual Arts Center, open now through Sept. 20.