“Pushing the Boundaries: Innovation in the Visual Sphere” is more than just the theme of the Penn Lens showcase. It describes all that they do. As the title suggests, the showcase redefines limits, fostering innovation and providing a hub for photographers all over campus to display their work. On April 12th and 13th, Penn Lens will be hosting its annual showcase in Houston Hall 225 Brachfeld.
Whereas Penn Art Club focuses more so on the place of art in Philadelphia and Penn Create on the fine arts, Penn Lens translates the common thread between all three—that is, serving as a creative outlet for Penn students—through a different medium: photography. As the central photography organization on campus, it hosts events from photo shoots to workshops to demos on professional videography. The club provides all the equipment necessary, giving students both exposure and access to an otherwise expensive field. Students can enjoy the art form without pursuing it professionally or even academically, which is especially rare at a school where everything needs an application and multiple rounds of interviews. But photography here isn’t the kind of photography typically found at Penn, namely event photography.
“Everyone has a camera; photography’s been democratized,” Co–President Halbert Bai (C ’18) says. “Now, it’s kind of just an Instagram post.” While democratization can easily be said to be a positive thing, it’s also changed photography's original meaning. Penn Lens brings that meaning back, so that their photography centers around purposeful and deliberate composition and lighting. It’s the juxtaposition between light and shadow instead of light trails. It’s the capture of narratives over the capture of fleeting moments.
And the showcase is reflective of that. To adjust the confines of each person’s capacities requires this calculated, intentional thought process. The theme is broad, but justly so as to “welcome all types of boundaries and pushing past them,” explains Ericka Lu (C ’20), the events chair. “We want to push people outside the box and see them doing creative things especially because at Penn, people are losing the desire to do so.” For her, it’s particularly relevant. Having lost interest in photography over the rush of life, Penn Lens was what brought her back to her initial interest in the art.
This is all in reference to the process and the actual creation of the photos. As to the showcase itself, it’s meant to be a place for people to be inspired and seeks to bring photographers together in one room. Showcase Chair Stefanie Lee (C ’21) characterizes it, saying, “the focus isn’t even really on the showcase. It’s more on bringing a community together to cultivate something more creative and more crazy.” But that’s not to deny the relevance of the photos. After all, the showcase is also a way of telling a separate story. “These are their stories and that’s why this is important,” Stefanie says. They span the entire spectrum: some as portraitures, some as landscapes. Some in black and white, some blurry, some tinged with a vintage feel.
The theme this year is telling of the direction Penn Lens is headed. It too is pushing its own boundaries. That means working with cinema graphs, stills with one aspect of the piece moving. That means going on a camping trip with low light pollution to draw sources of inspiration. That means building on its social impact initiative, which was rolled out just last spring, to address larger social issues in Philadelphia. On April 12th and 13th, a taste of that progress will be on display for all of Penn.
The showcase will take place in Houston Hall 225 Brachfeld on April 12th and 13th from 6 p.m.–8 p.m. both days.