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'Toward Reconciliation, Away' photo exhibit explores border struggles

The exhibit at the Northlight Gallery is produced by ASU students in the Photographic Exhibition class


A gallery attendee admires the "Toward Reconciliation, Away" exhibit at the Northlight Gallery in downtown Phoenix, Arizona, on Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2018.

ASU’s Northlight Gallery is hosting an exhibit that uses the photographs from three artists to draw comparisons between locations where efforts toward reconciliation have been made. 

“Toward Reconciliation, Away,” which opens Sept. 21, features the work of Wendy Babcox, Tom Kiefer and Terri Warpinski who photograph areas of the U.S.-Mexico border, Palestinian territories and present day Berlin. 

This exhibition is a project by the photographic exhibition class offered by Director of the Northlight Gallery Liz Allen. Allen chooses the theme and curates the photos in the exhibit, but most of the production of the exhibit is done by the undergraduate and graduate students taking the class, including photo and lighting placement.

Allen said she wants to encourage visitors to consider the commonality among people through images that inspire understanding rather than increase conflict.

“I wanted people to be reminded of the possibility of reconciliation,” Allen said. “Especially when the Trump administration started separating families, children from their parents ... and things were so contentious.”

The Northlight Gallery is housed at Grant Street Studios in downtown Phoenix where Allen said students have the opportunity to receive practical, professional experience.

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Allen said the goal of the exhibition is to stimulate a meaningful conversation by offering different perspectives instead of displaying the desperation seen commonly in photos of children being separated from their families.

“The images here really allow you to enter into empathy and hopefully understand the situation at a deeper, more human level without being so confrontational that people will reject it,” she said.

Warpinski, a photographer and a former professor at the University of Oregon, utilizes photos to parallel occupied Palestinian territories and the U.S.-Mexico border with present-day Berlin after the destruction of the Berlin Wall. 

“(The Berlin Wall) was something that seemed like it was going to persist forever,” she said. “It was a formidable structure that held a place in the collective global imagination in a way that its destruction seemed impossible.”

She said that by recognizing the similarities between these geographic areas, it allows visitors to consider these realities that could have been easily dismissed.

“I’m just really kind of overwhelmed by the reception that I get (from) people with being grateful to be presented with images that they otherwise never would have seen, that helps them think differently or even begin to care about something that maybe seemed too far away to really matter,” Warpinski said. 

Also a photographer, Kiefer said he came to the idea for his project while working as a custodian at the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol Processing Facility. 

There, he was struck by the personal belongings of undocumented migrants that were being confiscated because they were considered dangerous or unimportant, including rosaries, wallets, Bibles and photos.

“So it isn’t just the seizure of these personal belongings," Kiefer said. "It’s what’s happening to the 10 million plus people who live here that do not have legal citizenship who are living in fear, who are being terrorized, knowing that they could be separated from their family at any moment.”

Kiefer said the project is not just about the dedication of those people crossing the desert, but also the contribution the immigrants who are already living here make in their communities. 

Photographs from Babcox’s project "Every Olive Tree in the Garden of Gethsemane" and historical photography of those same olive trees from the Solari Foundation Collection will also be on display within the exhibition, according to the event page. 

Allen said the class is especially unique because of the diversity of perspectives and experiences through the collaborations between students, including some immigrant and international students.  

“It’s important that we have the opportunity to share that with the general public, so people can be educated in a different way than just reading the paper," Allen said.

Reach the reporter at and follow @chofmann528 on Twitter.  

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