University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee scholar helps index a Polaroid past

Posted by on Thursday, January 7, 2010 11:49 - 0 Comments

sgim_formal_2Noelle Steffen, a senior in the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s McNair Postbaccalaureate Achievement Program, is spending her summer reviewing nearly 4,000 self-portrait Polaroids of her mentor, Marc Tasman, a lecturer in UWM’s Journalism and Mass Communication Department.

As of late, Steffen has been working with Tasman on “Flickers of Recognition: Technology and the Self Portrait,” an exhibit opening June 5 at the Guenzel Gallery of Peninsula School of Art in Fish Creek, Wis.

Tasman’s exhibit consists of a three-and-a-half-year portion of the Polaroid photos he has taken of himself daily for just shy of a decade. His project is representative of the accelerated rate of technological change. When he started his project in 1999, Polaroid cameras were state of the art. In spring 2008, Polaroid announced it would no longer be producing products. Tasman’s last set of film expired in May, though his project will not be complete until July 23, 2009.

During the process, Steffen has been helping Tasman archive and index the Polaroids on Flickr, along with finding ways to incorporate the concept of how technology develops identity and how a person is perceived, into her final research project.

“I find it interesting how documenting one’s development and transitions through life have gone beyond the intimate process of journaling,” says Steffen. “And with the project being on the Internet, Marc is going to see and hear how others perceive him.”

Tasman started the conceptual project on July 24, 1999, shortly after moving into a tiny Chicago apartment with his wife. Collecting self images with a Polaroid camera took little space and was “like magic,” producing physical photos in a matter of minutes.

Today the project’s significance as digital self-portraiture relates to both social-media sites and photo- and video-sharing sites such as Facebook, Flickr and Youtube, and their influences on identity formation in the users who create and upload these media. “We use the social media as a tool, something all humans use,” says Tasman. “We find ways to do everything, and this is just another tool.”

“Flickers of Recognition: Technology and the Self Portrait” will run June 5-July 16, with an opening reception on Saturday, June 6, from 5-7 p.m. and an artists’ gallery talk beginning at 4 p.m. Along with Tasman, Peck School of the Arts lecturers Renato Umali and A. William Miller will display works. Educators from New York University and the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design will also be featured in the exhibit.

Steffen had several hurdles to clear before being selected as one of 15 McNair scholars at UWM this summer. McNair scholars are chosen based on financial need, are first-generation college students from underrepresented backgrounds and must be junior or senior students with a minimum GPA of 2.75. Steffen also had the task of finding a mentor.

Steffen took a class with Tasman a couple of years back, which ended up being one of her favorite classes. When it came to finding a mentor, the choice was easy. “Marc allowed us to look at various media outlets and the way minorities and different racial groups are presented in a light that most people are scared of,” says Steffen.

The Ronald E. McNair Postbaccalaureate Achievement Program, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education, was established in 1989, with UWM selected as one of the first 14 universities to receive funding. The program’s purpose is to increase the number of students from underrepresented backgrounds entering graduate-level studies.

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