Class of 2021: Photographer gives snapshot of life at Georgia College

Class of 2021: Photographer gives snapshot of life at Georgia College

I n the darkroom, you start out with a blank sheet of paper. You have no idea how the picture’s going to turn out. Add a few chemicals here and there and, voilà! An image slowly appears.

That’s how senior studio art major Laurie Gentry of Trion, Georgia, recalls her time at Georgia College––the slow appearance of who she is today.

“I had struggles, of course, throughout my time here,” Gentry said, “but I know I wouldn’t feel as proud of myself or like I had come this far, if I hadn’t started where I did and been able to grow to where I am now.”

“It’s really bittersweet to graduate,” she said. “Obviously, I have such an affinity for this place and these people. But it’s also great to move on to a new season in my life and take with me all the knowledge I’ve gained. It makes me really comfortable knowing I faced the unknown here––and somehow made it work––so I know I can do it again.”

Senior Laurie Gentry with her photo exhibit at Leland Gallery.
Senior Laurie Gentry with her photo exhibit at Leland Gallery.

Gentry’s been interested in art since age 4, when she “learned to grip a pencil.” She minored in psychology while earning two art concentrations in printmaking and photography. Both art and psychology will be useful since she plans to get a master’s in art therapy and help children with developmental disabilities.

I had struggles, of course, throughout my time here, but I know I wouldn’t feel as proud of myself or like I had come this far, if I hadn’t started where I did and been able to grow to where I am now.
– Laurie Gentry
Gentry understands hardship. She entered college, grappling with the loss of her father, who passed away in 2015. She also questioned her desire to major in art, since her family didn’t think it an employable field.

Professors like William Fisher, Valarie Aranda and Matt Forrest helped Gentry grow and see her worth as an artist.

“These were people who really helped shaped me into who I am now,” she said. “They gave me great advice and such love. I can’t say enough how I wish I could thank them. They’ve done so much for me.”

In the same way, Gentry found photography and the hours she spent in the darkroom to be therapeutic. Mixing chemicals and developing pictures seemed almost magical.

“I call it the wizard room,” she said. “It’s very calming in there. It’s so rewarding. You really have no idea what the picture’s going to look like. That anticipation builds up, and that’s what makes your final product so meaningful and better. You feel more pleased, and you pat yourself on the back, and you say, ‘Wow this is hard, but it yields such good results.”

Gentry tried every form of art in college and first delighted in printmaking. She planned to do her senior capstone in linoleum block prints but felt stuck for ideas. In photography, however, Gentry could use entire rolls of film for exploration. She found it a “more forgiving” medium with room to experiment. She worked with various subjects, angles and lighting.

Ideas started flowing.

Gentry quickly learned darkroom techniques and changed her capstone exhibit to photography. Her work, “Notions of Serenity,” is displayed at Leland Gallery at Ennis Hall. Ten black-and-white photos tell the story of her college years, but also give viewers a sense of timelessness.

“I felt I had shut myself in a box,” Gentry said. “Doing these photos, I was able to just take pictures of the things that are meaningful to me. I was excited to go develop them. I wanted to be in the darkroom. I loved it. It became my safe haven.”

These ideas are closer to me. It’s more intuitive, and that’s how I prefer art to be. I want it to be something where you don’t consider how it’s going to be viewed. It’s really just art you want to produce, and that you’re happy to see on the wall.
– Laurie Gentry

Her subjects are deceptively simple: a friend’s door; a small shack on Columbia Street; her meadowy backyard at home; a path on the Greenway in Milledgeville; rocking chairs on an Ennis Hall balcony; keys hanging in a keyhole.

The close-up intimacy of the exhibit makes it meaningful––not only for Gentry who has special memories tied to each subject––but for viewers who find themselves standing before the photos longer than anticipated, mesmerized by their stillness and endurance.

I’ve dreamed of having my pieces up here in the gallery since I was a freshman.
– Gentry
Gentry hopes the pictures resonate with gallery visitors, causing them to pause and think about items in their own lives that carry weight and meaning.

“I want people to see this is a personal project. It obviously means a lot to me. I’ve dreamed of having my pieces up here in the gallery since I was a freshman,” Gentry said. “These are all things from my season of life here at Georgia College. These are some of the things and experiences that’ve given me peace and comfort during my time here.”

“I think it’s clear everyone has those kinds of experiences––places and people in their lives that really meant a lot,” she said. “There’s a lot of ebb and flow in life, so commemorating these things was really important to me, because I took these things for granted until doing this project.”

Her work ties in with the overall capstone exhibit called “Boundless.” Eleven students from the class of 2021 displayed artwork that shows the obstacles they’ve overcome. They lived through COVID lockdowns and online classes. They faced the unknown.

Like Gentry’s photos, the exhibit speaks to their resilience and ability to adapt.

“I want people to be able to identify with those things in their own lives––the things that bring them peace and comfort and show them a little bit of confidence and ability they didn’t know they had. That’s what these things have done for me,” Gentry said, “and why I thought they needed to be shared.”

During college, Gentry was involved with the student council for inclusion and diversity and the Georgia Education Mentorship program. She worked at the library and as a practicum student in Aranda’s drawing class. She was also an honors student and president of the Women’s Action Collective on campus.

All these things help Gentry know she’ll continue to overcome and do well in the future.

Her advice to incoming students is “don’t be afraid to ask questions,” because professors really do want to help. For art students, specifically, she recommends trying out more than comfort allows.

“This is the time to experiment and make mistakes,” Gentry said. “I don’t think I did that until later, and I wish I had started sooner, because it shaped me into who I am. I’m much happier with how I’m leaving Georgia College than how I came.”

If I can do a fragment of what these people and Georgia College did for me––if I can do that for somebody else, I’ll feel so accomplished.
– Laurie Gentry