Eastern State Penitentiary Explored
in Mixed Media Photography Exhibit April 8-18, 2005

3-29-05

Mercer County Community College (MCCC) at ARTWORKS’ Gallery is pleased to present “Thou Art…, Will Give…,” a show of new work by photographer and book artist Eric T. Kunsman. The show will run from April 8 to 18, 2005, with an opening reception on Friday, April 8, from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. MCCC at ARTWORKS is located on Stockton Street, Trenton, directly across from the NJ Division of Motor Vehicles.

Thou Art…, Will Give… is a mixed media installation. Breathtaking photographs, taken by Kunsman at Philadelphia’s Eastern State Penitentiary during the past three years, have been combined with text from the penitentiary’s warden logbooks from the 1800s. The photographs evoke the presence of the desperate prisoners so descriptively portrayed in the logs.

“Eastern State Penitentiary was unbelievably harsh during its ‘solitary confinement era’ in the 1800s,” says Kunsman. “Reading the warden’s logs from that period is a very emotional experience. He wrote often, and very graphically, about so many prisoners who had, in his words, ‘…not much hope.’” Kunsman also found himself intrigued by the complex relationship between punishment and altruism that inspired the creation and management of the penitentiary. “The penitentiary was established by Quakers, who believed that lawbreakers should be kept isolated in individual cells where they could ‘…truly repent and learn the ways of God…while looking into the eye of God.’”

Today Eastern State Penitentiary, though in ruins, is operated as a museum and has become a major tourist attraction in Philadelphia. “In those ruins you can still feel a presence similar to what the prisoners themselves must have felt in the 1800s. You actually experience the sense of loneliness, hopelessness and search for religion that must have driven so many of the spirits trapped within its walls,” says Kunsman. By including reproductions of several penitentiary manuscripts from the 1800s, Kunsman hopes to provide a historical context for viewers, but the real focal points of the exhibit are sure to be the prisoner’s own words and the penitentiary’s environment as captured in Kunsman’s luminous, mysterious photographs.

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Eric T. Kunsman is a photographer and book artist based in Morrisville, Pennsylvania. He is an assistant professor and coordinator of the photography program at Mercer County Community College. A former instructor at Rochester Institute of Technology, Kunsman is presently an MFA candidate in Book Arts/Printmaking at The University of the Arts in Philadelphia. He also holds an MS in Electronic Publishing/Graphic Arts Publishing, a BS in Biomedical Photography, and BFA in Fine Art photography, all from the Rochester Institute of Technology in Rochester, New York.

The ARTWORKS’ gallery is open Wednesday and Saturday 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., Sundays 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and evenings on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday 6:30 to 9 p.m. For more information contact Tricia Fagan at 609-586-4800, ext. 3588.

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