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The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

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Exhibit aims to provide grasp on global conditions

 
 

Capturing both the beauty and the strife of the world through the lens, an event on campus seeks to display and raise awareness of the human condition around the globe.
The Conflict and Development Center will open a photography exhibit Wednesday featuring the work of Howard G. Buffet, philanthropist and president of the Howard G. Buffet Foundation. The exhibit, “Wildlife, Food Production and the Human Condition,” will be housed in the AGLS Building.
Edwin Price, the Howard G. Buffett Chair on Conflict and Development, said Buffett’s love of wildlife inspired the photographs. Price said Buffett views wildlife conservation as inextricably linked to the human condition and those views are reflected in the photographs on display.
“Buffett really got started in his career, before he became a philanthropist, as a photojournalist,” Price said. “He was really into wildlife and he did wonderful work in wildlife photography, but in the process he came to the conclusion that wildlife cannot be conserved or preserved if you don’t help people feed themselves. He came upon many instances in Africa where, for their own livelihood, people were killing wildlife to eat, for trophies or for the habitat. He came to the conclusion that he if really wanted to preserve wildlife, you need to look at and do something about the human condition.”
The Conflict and Development center will announce this year’s recipients of the Student Media Grant Program on Wednesday. The program awards $5,000 grants to encourage careers in photojournalism. The program, open to both undergraduate and graduate students, allows students to travel to and document the conditions of conflicted nations through photography. Next year’s competition will open and photos from a previous winner will be displayed.
“It’s really three generations of awardees of the SMGP,” Price said. “It is those who have completed, and displaying their photography, those who have been granted the fellowship and then the announcement of the competition for the third round of awards.”
Christopher Bielecki, agricultural leadership, education and communications graduate student, was one of the first SMGP winners and will have the photos from his project displayed in the Agrilife Center. Bielecki’s project took place in Guatemala, where he used photography to document malnutrition and better understand the country’s living conditions.
“I’m a Ph.D. student and I do a lot of research,” Bielecki said. “I wanted to ask the question, ‘Is there any way we can use photographs, not just as something to look at but also use it as data, as something we can use to make conclusions?’ I took my own photographs, but I also gave disposable cameras to participants in three different small villages, 21 people overall. I had them take photographs of what they ate everyday for their midday meal for a month as a way for me as a researcher to see what they’re lacking nutritionally.”
For the display, Bielecki said he selected photos from his project that were able to tell stories
“I chose a few that were centered on conflict,” Bielecki said. “When people think of conflict they think of Syria, or sub-Saharan Africa, but Guatemala there is lot of common crime that goes unpunished.”
The photographs in the Buffett exhibit will be utilized by the Department of Recreation, Park and Tourism Sciences in a class on heritage interpretation. Gary Ellis, RPTS department head, said the thematic groupings of the photographs displayed will grant classes experience in trying to glean the story behind the work.
“The arts provide a context that is ripe for interpretation,” Ellis said. “In fact, it begs interpretation, so that people can understand the stories being told and provoke the audience, so that they will have been engaged in a meaningful experience.”
The exhibit reflects the central purpose of the Conflict and Development Center, Price said, and that photography is just one of the many ways to both document and improve the lives of others.
“Our main goal is to discover the intricate relationships between development investments and conflict,” Price said. “Much of the photography is of beautiful landscapes, beautiful wildlife. But it also delivers the message that all of that is not safe in the environment unless we feed people and improve the human condition. Ultimately hunger and desperation comes to bear on the environment.”
The photos on display will be organized according to themes and subthemes. Ellis said the students would utilize the display in a manner similar to how they would interact with materials in a laboratory course, with the photographs being used in an experiment on the interpretation of art.
“Well it’s almost like a laboratory – it’s an experience,” Ellis said. “In a laboratory you have specialized equipment that allows you to experiment with variables, changes that occur from different approaches. To have these photos in the hallway is much like creating an interpretation laboratory. We can create an experience where students can try different approaches.”
While Buffett will not be able to attend the opening of the display, Ellis said he will be meeting with the students in the interpretation course to discuss his photography later in the month..
“One of the reasons I’m particularly excited about this is because in our major we prepare students to manage organizations that are in the experience industry,” Ellis said. “To have this artwork, it illustrates the very thing that we are about. It is meaningful and memorable human experience. We see the photography as being a really great asset for us. It’s going to contribute significantly to the education of our students.”

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