I want people to experience an emotional reaction when they view my work. As we all know emotions run the gamut from the euphoric to the totally depressed. Whatever the emotion, it is important that work evokes a strong response in the viewer or it will simply be forgotten by the time the viewer leaves the gallery/museum.
I remember listening to futurist Faith Popcorn talk about effective advertising and saying that for advertising to be effective it must evoke a strong emotional reaction from the viewer. Positive or negative didn’t matter as much as the strength of the emotional response. I feel the same way about my photographs. I want them evoke a strong response whatever that response may be. Of course, I would prefer a positive response but who is to say what a positive response is and what long term effect any strong emotional response will have on the viewer.
I bring this up now because on my visit to the Michener Museum this past Thursday for one final look at my “Street Stories” exhibit before it comes down on Monday, I encountered two examples of the type of emotional response that I hope my work evokes. While sitting quietly in the gallery, I watched a husband and wife come in and begin viewing the photographs and reading the accompanying stories. After looking at four or five photographs (there are a total of 17), the husband turned to wife and in a hushed tone said “these are very depressing”. They looked at one or two more and left the gallery. Now I don’t necessarily want to evoke a depressed response (and I wish they would have viewed all the portraits) but if that’s what this couple took away, so be it. It was obviously a strong reaction and I am confident that they did not immediately forget the work upon leaving the gallery and museum. That’s the worst thing that could happen… have someone look at one’s work and feel nothing. Have them walk away and never give a second thought to the work. I want my work to make people think… to make them feel and I believe I have succeeded.
After spending about an hour and half just sitting in the gallery with my work and trying to soak in the entire experience one last time before it comes down, my wife and I headed into the town for some lunch and a walk before heading home. On our way back to the car, we ducked back into the museum for a minute to leave a message for the team that will uninstalling the exhibit on Monday. The receptionist upon seeing me said to the two women she was talking with “there he is, you can tell him yourself.” The two ladies came over and immediately said that the photographs and stories brought tears to their eyes. Again the type of strong emotional response that I hoped my work would evoke. They asked many questions and we must have chatted for 15 minutes before going our separate ways.
Over the course of the three month run for the “Street Stories” exhibit, I received many notes expressing the same kinds of emotional responses. To have the work viewed, to have it have a profound emotional effect on the viewer, to have that emotional response last, and to have them feel obligated to write and express their feelings is really what it is all about.
And it is a sure sign that the “Street Stories” exhibit was a success.
P.S. To see samples from my “Street Stories” series visit my website at http://www.edvatza.com/street-storiesportraits-from-the-street/. Click on any photo to read that person’s story.