Monday, July 16th, 2018

Understanding mortality through photography: how one artist understands death

Posted on April 21, 2014 in Arts & Culture
By Francis Flisiuk

Kelly Donaldson
Kelly Donaldson

The photography that junior foreign language major Kelly Donaldson brought to submit for the President’s Art Show deals with a topic that, according to her, is constantly ignored: death.

On display on the 7th floor of the law building is a series of four photographs that depict macabre images that are meant to evoke some uneasy feelings. But ultimately it aims for the goal of conquering and reaching a deeper understanding of the various uncertainties that life and our own mortality creates.

According to Donaldson, as we all go through our daily routines, we often find ourselves shocked when forced to reconcile with our own mortality. Donaldson begs the questions: how does our view of a subject change once we remove the life from it?

“My photographs are trying to advise you to be comfortable with being uncomfortable,” explained Donaldson. “People shouldn’t ignore the fact that we’re all going to die one day.”

According to Donaldson, many people find entertaining these kinds of thoughts can be depressing, when in fact it should help lead to happier life choices. She said that if you embrace uncertainty and reflect on your mortality through art or meditation, it can have a hugely positive impact on your existence.

“It’s because I don’t fully understand life, that I try to live it to its fullest,” said Donaldson. “My photography helps me get into that right accepting mindset.”

However Donaldson stated that this is still difficult and overwhelming for most people to achieve, because people don’t like to think about death. At the opening of the President’s Art Show last week on April 15, Donaldson said that she observed this restrictive way of thinking when she saw people viewing her photographs for the first time.

“A lot of people got really shocked when they turned the corner and saw my photos,” said Donaldson. “They looked really creeped out and uncomfortable.”

Donaldson’s four photos are meant to display something that was once common and normal to us and now is gone. According to Donaldson, objects take on new meaning once their “soul” is removed.

One photo depicts dead fish lying in the snow. The others depict, in what Donaldson described as her “strangest online purchase,” a bleached bobcat skull, all shot in black in white, which was a stylistic choice meant to exemplify the “soullessness” of the subject.

“Once something dies, it becomes empty of energy,” said Donaldson. “The bobcat was once full of life and now it looks like a scientific specimen.”

For Donaldson, who has been snapping photographs since the 8th grade and who also plans to take her unique artistic perspective to Iceland for a month long workshop this summer, the idea for this existential exhibition came from her own independent research into Buddhism, specifically the idea of impermanence.

In Buddhism, impermanence means that all things in life are in a constant state of flux and time and life goes on, no matter what happens. It’s one of the three Buddhist marks of existence, and it states that nothing in life is ever fixed or permanent. Donaldson firmly believes that recognizing and accepting this undeniable truth is actually a great way to eliminate the stress from life.

“My photographs are just a medium to facilitate that way of thinking,” said Donaldson. “As humans we must find peace with impermanence.”

 

 

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