If you wandered into the Carpenter Center during the fall semester student photography show, you have experienced the work of Jeff Sheng '02. Hailing from Thousand Oaks, a suburb of Los Angeles, Sheng's work was the show's centerpiece, consisting of eighteen 16" x 20" color prints spanning the inception and dissolution of a gay relationship in which he was involved. The photographs-ranging from self-portraits, portraits of his former boyfriend and intimate moments between the two-document the vicissitudes of sex and love. Sheng afforded his audience the opportunity to enter a world rarely seen, a sphere of emotional fragility and ecstasy shared between two men tangled in a relationship too unconventional and unacceptable for many. In one photograph, the two share a private kiss in a hotel room; in another, Sheng, teary-eyed, faces the camera in the frail and final moments following the break-up. "Putting photographs on a wall about my sexuality challenges society because it is the normalization of a group that is usually marginalized. An audience begins to see how beautiful it [a gay relationship] is," comments Sheng on the reception of the show.
Sheng came to Harvard thinking about concentrating in economics or biology. But after breaking a 4 x 5 camera during a photography class, he felt indebted to the Visual and Environmental Studies Department. Explains Sheng, "I called Chris Killip [head of the VES photography department] and said, 'I broke the glass plate on the camera. But on another note, I've decided to join the VES Department.'" The artist that influenced and continues to influence his work is Nan Goldin, whose famous work, "The Ballad of Sexual Dependency," documents the relationships in her life. Goldin was a visiting professor at Harvard last spring, and although Sheng did not take her class, her presence left a lasting impression on his photographic approach. He shoots with a Yashica T4, a point-and-shoot camera small enough to fit into his shirt pocket. This small camera allows him to be as unobtrusive as possible so as not to affect the reality of the moments occurring in his quotidian affairs. His photography is about himself, his relationships and how he perceives them through the lens of a camera. His photographic obsession with his personal life results from an "intense desire not to forget. These photographs are my own family album." His work has a distinctively Los Angelean flair-think warm colors, sprays of light and blue skies-and an aesthetic that looks to find beauty in the intimate and personal.
Presently Sheng is continuing in his vein of personal documentary, working on a project involving his current boyfriend, male friends and family. He has switched to shooting color slide film, popular with photographers due to its rich saturation of colors. At the end of the semester he plans to construct a multimedia slide show including photographs, text and music, promising that it will be powerful and emotional. Although his sexuality and gay relationship will still be the focus of the project, he reflects, "I never thought my sexuality would be so integrated into my work. I'm still kind of closeted in way, it's still very personal and private for me. I fear being labeled as a gay artist; I'd rather just be thought of as an artist."
Show-Off is a regular column introducing the work of a student artist.
Show-OffDehn Gilmore '02 points to a color photo of a slightly scruffy boy squinting towards the camera. "He generally looks
Still PhotographyP HOTOGRAPHERS and their critics like to rank a photograph in the hierarchy of artistic quality--it's better than these, but
The Art of Baring HumanityW HILE THE Metropolitan Museum of New York has been digging up Greek vases from European collections, the Fogg has
Easy Does it For VES StudentsSo reads the description of the upcoming senior thesis exhibition at the Carpenter Center. The seemingly enigmatic title of the
Camera Club Plans.Under the auspices of the Camera Club, several lectures on subjects connected with photography will be given during the year.