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Arresting student photographs develop environmental consciousness

Toms River rollercoaster.  Photo credit: Michelle Holt
Toms River rollercoaster. Photo credit: Michelle Holt
April 29, 2013

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- "Developing Environmental Consciousness," an exhibition featuring photos by Penn State students in the Photography and the Environment course, will be on display April 29 to May 3 in the Borland Gallery. Gallery hours are 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday to Friday. A reception will be held at 4:30 p.m. Monday, April 29.

Photography and the Environment is an advanced-level pilot course taught by Katarin Parizek, assistant professor of art. "Developing Environmental Consciousness" explores the environment for each personal artist involved. The exhibition is unique because of the diversity of students who are participating, with each student focusing on a singular project of his or her interest. Their goal is to make the issues that they are photographing known around the campus as well as in their local communities.

The photography class of 12 students focused on “raising awareness of the historical problems concerning environmental  issues and the people affected by the impact of environmental disasters and pollution in Pennsylvania and surrounding states,” Parizek said. “Through their photographs, the artists captured images that included not only people and places affected by man’s exploitation of our earth, but how people are working hard to change with projects such as the Living Filter Water Recycling Project, where 100 percent of Penn State treated waters get recycled.”

Michelle Holt, a junior pursuing a bachelor of fine arts in photography, is a native of Toms River, N.J., which was hard hit by Hurricane Sandy. Her image of the rollercoaster in the water is one of several that reveal the environmental impact of natural disasters. “There isn’t a word to describe what it feels like to look upon your childhood as an unrecognizable place,” Holt said. “This is my reality. This hurricane did happen and it tore apart not only homes but lives as well.”

A field trip to Centralia, Pa., a ghost town in the heart of the anthracite coal mining district, where a mine fire has been burning since 1962, provided the students with images of blackened streams, steam spewing from fractures, abandoned home sites and immigrant Russian cemeteries. In spite of the horror, Holt found beauty. “This project explores the beauty that comes with destruction and abandonment,” Holt acknowledges. “The image of the street from Centralia represents the same abstract painting style where lines and highlights are used to accentuate the subject.”

To learn about the exhibition and the class behind it, visit

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