SF Bay Area

Exhibitions “Inception” and “Growing Up” on Display at Sutter St. Galleries

Two photography gallery exhibitions kick off the fall semester with unique personal perspectives 

By Cristina Schreil 

As students roll into the new fall semester, two photography exhibitions on display in San Francisco through the month of September offer insights into more private inner worlds. 

The exhibitions, “Inception” by Shenyi Wang and “Growing Up” by Liwen He — at the Academy of Art University’s 625 Sutter Gallery and the 688 Sutter Gallery, respectively — are deeper looks at the students’ work. 

They’re also vastly different; “Inception” features black and white photographs of origami structures, exploring stark contrasts between light and shadow. 

“Growing Up,” which originated in the concept and image course taught by instructor Connie Begg, stems from He’s experience as a foreign exchange student at a young age. She describes feeling lost and homesick. Plunging into nostalgia became her tool for recovering. In her photographs, He captures two figures: one who lives in the past and is in focus, looking at the camera, and another identical figure living in the present, who is blurred and turned away. The project is split into four chapters dwelling on the urge to escape present strife by probing past memories.  Each image comprises different photos, which He composited together in post-production.

I want to give my viewers more visual clues about what two people in the photo represent, so I have blurred one person in each photo to represent me in the present,” He said. “The reason is these stories are about my going back to my past, so I kind of exist as a shadow or ghost in my past. This blurred effect helps viewers to distinguish past from the present.” 

For both photographers — students at the Academy of Art University’s School of Photography — it’s their first solo exhibition. 

Wang majors in fine art photography and has a heavy interest in black-and-white photography that shows contrasts between light and shadow. “Inception” is a personal project. “It represents my inner world through photographs of folded paper … the intent of ‘Inception’ is to provide an intimate portrait of my emotions through physical structures.” 

Wang’s process included creating origami models and using different angles of light to create different scenes. He added notes on the symbolism of color: “The heart of my philosophy is concision. The way I look at things is only right and wrong, so I like to express my personality in black and white. The majority of my work is created in black and white.” Wang added that the opinions of others — which he reacts differently to depending on his inner compass — are represented in shades of gray. “Some photos are grayish, which means that I am in radical opposition and I think my choice is correct; some photos are a little grayer, representing that the opinions of others are right for me, and the persistence of my thoughts [is] less.”

That being said, he said he’s learned a lot from his communicative Academy experience. “I also met many great classmates. We often shared our views on art. They always gave me a lot of positive suggestions and criticisms. I think communication is more important than learning in art creation,” he said.

For “Growing Up,” He initially shot in the studio, using a black background. When her technical skills improved, she shot on location to “give the photographs a stronger narrative and more atmospheric visual aesthetic.  [Refining] the concept, I began to prefer creating a completed story to shooting single images, because I wanted to convey the changes [in] my attitude towards my memories and present realities to my audience.” She added that digital montaging upon honing her Photoshop skills helped her communicate the concept to viewers in a more impactful way. 

He said the solo exhibition is a fitting culmination. “The exhibition is the memory of struggling and happiness of my student life. On the other hand, this is the first time I speak to the public through my artworks, the exhibition gave me more confidence [in] being an artist in the future,” she said. 

“Inception” is on display at 625 Sutter Street through September 26. “Growing Up” is on display at 688 Sutter Street; both exhibitions close September 26. 

For more information on Shenyi Wang, visit www.shenyiwangphotography.com

For more information on Liwen He, visit liwenhephotography.com

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