NEXT Project Presents an Intimate Family Portrait


Noelle Smith, Photojournalism, BFA ’15, remembered the night she pulled into the Annapolis gas station where her friend Zeus worked. Just days into her senior year, Noelle was contemplating the subject for her thesis project. Broaching the topic in casual conversation, Zeus proposed an idea.

“Why don’t you just follow me around with your camera?” he said. Noelle snickered at first. But he wasn’t kidding. “I’ve got an interesting life,” he told her.

What began as banter at the local gas station became a photographic journey that has changed Noelle’s life. Zeus invited Noelle to the small section 8 apartment his girlfriend Mira shares with her mother and their two children. For the past six months, Noelle’s camera documented the couple and their children, six-month-old daughter Kimari and newborn son Marlin.

She has captured the arch of their relationship, from their struggles with poverty to the strains of parenthood to the dangers and temptations of their urban streets. The result is a photojournalism tour de force called Threshold, a starkly intimate portrait of a family navigating life in one of the poorest sections of Annapolis.

Noelle started taking photos on the spot, catching Zeus in his most unguarded moments. Noelle slowly entered his personal life – picking him up from his late shift at the gas station and finally accompanying him to Mira’s apartment. Noelle was hesitant at first; would Mira and her family accept her into their home? Noelle was surprised when Mira embraced the idea.

“I started out standing in the background snapping pictures,” Noelle said. “After a couple of sessions, I was really getting into the thick of their lives.”

Over the next few months, Noelle’s black and white images captured the texture and intricacies of the couple’s life—from washing dishes and watching television to playing with little Kimari. Zeus and Mira’s story, Noelle explained, details the cycle of poverty, the hardships of parenthood under trying circumstances and the effects of people’s choices. Her images also give a glimpse into a world that is tucked away from the seemingly picturesque city of Annapolis. Her project’s goal is to expose the preconceived notions about what it is like to live below the poverty line.

“I want to make people aware of the hardships that families in poverty go through,” she said, “to open their eyes to a different kind of life.”

A Study in Isolation in Relationships

The images speak volumes about how the depth of poverty is interlaced with the relationship Zeus and Mira share, Noelle explained.

As she watched them struggle with mounting bills and argue over the status of their relationship, she discovered her photos were painting a relationship defined by isolation and disconnection.

“I realized as I was developing the photos that every image of them together portrays a disconnect. They hardly ever look at each other. They are often looking off to the side, on a cell phone or watching television,” she said. “It’s like they build screens and self-imposed dividers between them. The only time I capture them looking at each other is right before an argument.”

Noelle was often an uneasy audience to the couples’ arguments. To highlight the impact of poverty’s frustrations on an entire family, Noelle framed shots of baby Kimari against her parents bickering in the background.

As her project progressed and Noelle spent more time with the family, she recognized she was becoming intimately involved in her subjects’ lives.

“I’ve come to really care about Mira and the babies,” Noelle said. Kimari routinely jumps into Noelle’s arms when she shows up at the apartment. “It’s like I’m part of the family,” she said.

But not everyone in the family welcomed Noelle into the home. Mira’s mother vehemently opposed the intrusion upon their lives. Threshold features just one image of her — a snapshot of her fast asleep beside baby Kimari.


“She worries that I’m exploiting them,” Noelle said. Noelle herself struggled with that moral dilemma; was her camera taking advantage of a family’s hardship? However, she aided the family the best she could, driving Mira to doctors’ appointments, buying Christmas and birthday presents for the family. Meanwhile she hoped her camera was documenting an often hidden American issue.

“I wanted to capture an informative story that people should be aware of and at the same time, elicit an emotional response from the audience,” she said.

While Noelle has come close to telling that story, she realizes she is anxiously approaching its final chapter. Once she completes her project, she concedes she will step back from the family’s life.

“Mira often calls to check up on me and sometimes I stop by without my camera just to spend time with the kids,” she said. “I don’t think we’ll lose touch. I’m too invested in their well-being at this point.”

Noelle’s images from Threshold will be on display at the NEXT 2015 Corcoran School Thesis Exhibition from April 8 – May 17.

Post-Pop, Post-Polaroid

Luminaries at Brady Gallery runs through April 24th

Luminaries is a show that, at first, seems to be in a state of confusion. Warhol next to Ulke?

Who wants to be a luminary? Warhol is an easy answer, and his prints here are the self defining answer to that question. Remember these works, for there are multitudes, editions, copies; each signed by the artist, elevating this commercial technique to the fine art realm and ensuring the work will outlive its creator.

The luminaries here are not the painters but the subjects of this wide-ranging portraiture show that opened February 24th. From the outsider art of Clark V. Fox and the cheek-to-cheek insider art of Warhol and Botero, the show presents George Washington, William Wilson Corcoran, Queen Elizabeth and a Primativist portrait of a child bishop.

The Henry Ulke Corcoran portrait is weighted by the man’s connection to George Washington’s early founding–himself the founding president of Columbian School at GW–and book ended by the eventual partnership between his eponymous institution and the older Foggy Bottom University whose campus already had a building in his name. It’s formalism and the smaller size of the Brady Gallery oddly makes the painting appear even larger, a sitting man with  cane is suddenly hulking and brooding.

Clark V. Fox’s contribution here is a return to George Washington, a persistent subject for the post-pop artist. Contrasting Ulke’s portrait, there is no grandeur or classicism outside of a standard sitter’s silhouette. Fox borrows from Robert Indiana’s color palette on top of a background with all the fleshiness of de Kooning–a militaristic camo pattern that posits Washington as a general first, and history as a psychedelic wash of post-modernism. (Clark worked at the Corcoran, collaborated with stalwart faculty and Washington Color School champion Gene Davis, and showed in the 1977 Corcoran Biennial.)

What is consistent in the show is that each subject has been tweaked in a idiosyncratic manner, telling the viewer more about the artist than the subject. That seems to be the curatorial intent. From Warhol and Botero, this can be expected, too, seeing a Warhol half in focus from a distance would lead you to his colors and cut-out shapes before you made out who the subject was or is. And Botero’s cherrubs live in their own Grecian mythology, plump beyond reality, while his subject remains an unknown bishop. The painting is his. The painting is him.


David Page, Maida Withers. Maida, David.

“DAVID PAGE HATES ART.” The graffiti that adorns the lockers of the basement of the Corcoran is not, as it appears on first look, an admonishment. The artist hates the canon. The heraldry. The romantic notion of the lone wolf artist–at its best, someone like Mingering Mike, at its worst self-serving. Though the MFA graduate assistant-laden factories/studios of Damien Hirst and Jeff Koons present the opposite extreme to the soloist hand-of-god rococo painter, Page would argue for the middle. So the artist and Corcoran faculty member welcomes collaboration, by rote. Why? (a brief listicle)

1. His sculptures need people. They can be vessels, helmets, suits or restraints, all of which need to be filled.
2. People provide entropy, chance and push-back. With strangers, with students, peers, colleagues and–unwittingly, once or maybe twice–the police.
3. He escapes the institution with new places and settings for his work, including works with no home but an ambulatory nomad-state. His still sculptures become kinetic.
4. Have you seen his motorcycle? His custom modifications/works are welded on to it, he parks it on the south side of the Corcoran in good weather, and it’s caused more than one passer-by to look for a placard explaining its medium and title. Arguably a Honda collab.

Before what would come to be an orchestrated movement of two stalwart art and university institutions, a dance of its own, Corcoran’s Page and GWU’s Dance Professor Maida Withers began a collaboration that could be seen as a microcosm of those larger bodies. Maida (who, despite this introduction, needs none) can be described as an icon without the danger of approaching hyperbole: her practice at the university is in its fifty-first year and her own Maida Wither’s Dance Construction Company has reached forty. Though rooted in modern dance, Withers is a polymath in her practice, incorporating dance, neuroscience, 3D projected computer art, and live interactive music. Her dance work took her to West Berlin and Essen where, during her residency at Mary Wigman School, the Berlin wall moved from barbed-wire-topped fence to concrete barrier. In 1970, with the venerable Yvonne Rainier, Maida introduced some of the first Vietnam War critique to her campus with her and her students bodies in a fifteen week workshop.

Numeric Variations from Maida Withers on Vimeo.

Their collaboration is part of a massive fortieth celebration, renaissance in the width of its reach of mediums. MindFluctuations is a choreographic direction and concerted-exercise to Brazilian artist Tania Fraga’s 3D VR and projected artworks. In real-time, those projections will be manipulated by the emotions and expressed states of the dancers wearing an Emotiv neuro headset. The Electroencephalography (EEG) device measures voltage from the brain to use as a controller, here altering the entire composition uniquely at each rehearsal and performance.

Unveiled spoke with David Page to plot out his role in the disciplinary soup: manufacturing a helmet for dancer Anthony Gongora in MindFluctuations to shield his head from the neural headset, acting as interlocutor.

Unveiled: How did you meet Withers?

David Page: I met Maida through student Lorenzo Cardim, who worked with her on his performance for NEXT, last year. He started the Wear, Strut Occupy, 2013 spring class. It was the type of thing where the class gels, and it comes together, or it doesn’t.  They excite one another or they don’t. Last year was particularly active.

The name caught, as a course, in 2011, team taught with Nick Cave, part of the Corcoran Gallery’s 30 Americans show. The name stuck after Occupy. The name is almost more fraught in its current context, with the so-called occupation of George Washington.


Unveiled: How did you get involved in the MindFluctuations project?


David Page: Lorenzo sicked Maida on to me. I thought this would be a good idea, as much as I resisted the GWU thing, once it became a done deal, what’s the point of not collaborating? The possibilities–what could happen–let’s not wait for a policy, let’s just find peers and work with them.


We started talking, and I met with principal dancer Anthony Gongora. There’s something fractured about his movements; it’s OK to mention, we spoke about it.  I was thinking about the possibilities of a percussive suit, and they were thinking of dance, freedom of motion. He’s thinking that what I do is I make these movements, roll around on the ground. The last thing he needs is for this thing to hurt him.


So instead of a suit, we started to look at helmets.



Unveiled: Helmets?


David Page: It’s the one thing you can wear and still move your body a whole lot. This was to be a brain-wave blocking helmet to counter the dancers wearing the neural headset. I went to the studio and watched him dance. He was making these primal sounds out loud. No matter how graceful a dancer is, they still make grunts and noises–somewhat animal and mechanical.


So I made sketches of the grunts.


I played around with different alloys. I had the remnants of an older project that was expanded with panels on the side. Took it back to them, and they said, it was really uncomfortable. Anthony has the biggest head around!


Unveiled: How did that resolve, between your idea and the logic of the piece. What was the compromise?


David Page: I was interested in the interior resonance of the helmet. I had ideas for it inside my own practice. That was the first helmet, it functioned. Now it’s more like a motorcycle helmet, and resonantly the acoustics are completely dead.


So I took apart a regular hard hat, and looked at the suspension system of it, and that allowed for more resonance. His head still pushed against the leather. It wasn’t working properly still. The third one was padded out with hard leather.


now I used a caliper to measure his head. Then we got the fit right.


After getting the size, we go in to rehearsal. The thing for me is that we go in to collect sounds and parts of the performance. Now I have the production down of the helmet down, with any number of templates for future use.


Unveiled: The role of the collaborator, as it is for Withers, is important to you. I think of your work with alumna Jessika Dené Tarr as one example.


David Page: The level of collab changes, sometimes the pieces are insprired by someone’s work, or we have anonymous, one-day volunteers. A quick tryout or a longer working relationship.


Jessika and I really did work together for a long time. The thoughts about the piece start to become collaborative. It’s frightening as well, there are times when safety is at stake with a third person, things could go wrong–there’s a responsibility. But they haven’t gone wrong yet.


Unveiled: What projects are coming up for you?


I’m working on a exhibition called “Security Theater.” At the Creative Alliance, we’re talking with the gallery about a large solo show where all the pieces work together as a large machine. Looking at using mechanisms and sandbags. Using bellows, gallery-goers can aid the flow of air supplies to the persons inside my suits. Cooling them down so they can breathe, for example. It impicates the viewer, even if they’re supporting the person inside, helping them, they are still responsible by being present. They become something more than a participant.


The world premiere of Maida Withers’s MindFluctuations is at the Lisner Auditorium, 730 21st Street NW, Washington, DC, on March 19, 2015. Tickets are from $25-$38 and available at Lisner’s site.

Chris Moukarbel: Internet As Art Medium

The scene is set. Shaky camera footage captures two unidentified men standing on top of a truck and detaching an enormous helium balloon that spells out “Banksy!”—a name associated to a pseudonymous English graffiti artist—from the side of a New York high-rise. As they climb down from their perch, an off-camera voice alerts them that the cops are on their way and someone else yells: “Arrest them! Thief!”

As one of the men tries to run with the crinkled balloon in hand, the NYPD apprehends him and a crowd quickly gathers. There is a scuffle and amidst the clamor, the helium balloon designed by Banksy is tossed about—everyone wants a piece of Banksy’s art. Meanwhile, the entire scene is caught on a camera phone.

Documentary filmmaker and Corcoran School alumnus Chris Moukarbel, Fine Arts BFA ’04, could not have asked for better footage for the opening sequence of his HBO documentary film, Banksy Does New York. The film centers on the impact of Banksy on the city during his month-long residency in October of 2013. The film premiered on HBO last November with numerous accolades for its originality because it is almost entirely based on footage generated from New York’s social media landscape.

“There really is no better way to tell someone’s experience than through their own footage,” Moukarbel said. “It makes the story more compelling and definitely more worth watching.”

When HBO approached Moukarbel about the Banksy project, his first documentary film, Meet Me @ the Zoo, had recently premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. That film starred YouTube sensation Chris Crocker, whose 2007 Leave Britney Alone video went viral and propelled Crocker to Internet infamy. Moukarbel and his team used clips from Crocker’s YouTube account to tell Crocker’s story. Soon after, HBO acquired Meet Me @ the Zoo.

Studying at the Corcoran definitely developed my critical thinking about art and its different forms

“I think HBO was attracted to the idea that Meet Me @ the Zoo wasn’t your traditional documentary,” Moukarbel said. “We used Krocker’s existing footage and wove it into a form that not only highlights him as this dramatic Internet personality, but who Krocker is as a person.”

InstagramUsing the same premise for the Banksy film, Moukarbel and his team spent hundreds of hours mining the Internet for media. They sifted through Banksy hash-tags, finding breadcrumbs that would lead to a coherent account of how New Yorkers experienced Banksy’s residency in the city. And they found a gold mine—there were hundreds of sightings, images and videos of Banksy art throughout the city.

“The hardest part was going through all of that content,” said Moukarbel. “You have to start with editing right off the top.”

When he and his team finally had enough content to tell a coherent story, they reached out to the owners of the footage for interviews. These interviews were the only footage the team filmed.

I believe social media content reveals what an individual’s ideals are and, in the end, what our culture’s ideals are

Moukarbel’s interest in “user-generated content documentary filmmaking” stems from his days at Corcoran and his fascination with art involving identity and technology. As a student, he toyed with various video mediums. His first film project as a student involved piecing together different videos featuring aspects of popular culture and everyday life into video art.

“Studying at the Corcoran definitely developed my critical thinking about art and its different forms … how I could creatively use the medium I had on hand to create something altogether different.” For Moukarbel, social media soon became one of those mediums.

“User-generated content is a great way for telling stories now,” Moukarbel said. “I think the fascination began when I realized that I live so much of my life online—it’s my actual day-to-day, as it is for so many [other] people.”

These social media archives, he noted, are windows into how individuals see and like to be seen—in effect, performing a version of their own identities online.

“I believe social media content reveals what an individual’s ideals are and, in the end, what our culture’s ideals are,” Moukarbel said. “That’s what makes this documentary format so interesting and more tangible to wider audiences.”

Moukarbel’s vision is the reason why, after the Banksy Does New York premiere, HBO signed him on to produce a modern version of the HBO hit documentary series Real Sex. The new version, titled Sex Now, is based on the Internet’s effect on relationships, sex and modern sexual culture. While the original Real Sex involved film crews traveling the country in search of participants, Moukarbel and his team simply search the web for users who already have their stories online.

“People who put their sex stories online already want to find an audience or are looking to connect with an audience,” Moukarbel said, “It makes our job easier because we audition stories just by surfing the web.”

“It’s an exciting project and I believe it will make people think about how technology has changed our interactions with even the most intimate aspects of our lives.”

His advice to Corcoran students: “Try to express your artwork with whatever resources you have available. It’s more exciting to let go of the preciousness of material and tell whatever story is authentic to you at that moment.”

Currently, Banksy Does New York can be found on HBO on Demand and HBOgo. Sex Now will premiere in late spring.

NEXT 2015 Design Concept Revealed

The much-anticipated NEXT Thesis Exhibition, which kicks off on April 8th, showcases the dynamic, interactive, and innovative work by Corcoran’s graduating students. Each year, Design Lab, a graphics design course led by Francheska Guerrero, is charged with creating a design concept that best captures the identity of the graduating class—taking into consideration the exhibit’s various art themes to create a distinctiveness that will engage students, alumni, prospective employers and members of the arts and design community. The result as illustrated above is a design called “Expressive Discovery.”

Designing NEXT 2015 has been a unique experience in the sense that the Corcoran has been going through unprecedented changes, both the school and the gallery.  -Design Lab

Designed by graphic design students Nora Mosley BFA ’15, David Hodgson, BFA ’15, Grace Boyle, BFA ’16, Andersson, BFA ’16 and Lucien Liz-Lepiorz BFA ’16, “Expressive Discovery” is inspired by the layered aesthetic of topography. The concept is based on the idea that topography is the evidence of change over time, which parallels the Corcoran’s creative heritage and dynamic future.

In the design, merged components are meant to show the integration of two schools while emphasizing the artistic diversity of Corcoran’s programs and students. As noted by the design’s creators, when students find their place within the community, they experience a journey that exposes them to multiple perspectives. With that in mind, the final design incorporates organic lines to symbolize a variety of individual paths that unite to form one community. The idea of individuality is further enhanced the by the design’s resemblance to a fingerprint.

Amidst these changes, we have found a confident, creative energy among the students and faculty involved in the exhibition, and we have worked constantly to maintain this energy in our work. Our focus has been to capture the past, present, and future of the Corcoran and its students. -D.L.

Creating the Design: A Visual Story

The Corcoran School’s Design lab developed the Expressive Discoveries concept after many weeks and long hours of considering this year’s changing student experience. The process began with a questionnaire that asked students their thoughts on their final year at the Corcoran, what inspires their work and how research advanced knowledge in their field. From the responses, Design Lab created messaging boards highlighting students’ top answers.

Three concepts were developed, each representing transition, evolution, movement or change. The final design seemed to best represent the evolution of the school experience.



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Wordmark Process

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In the final wordmark, the relationship between the dense and open areas has been finessed to create visual movement within each letterform—movement that then expands to unite the entire wordmark through the use of connecting lines.

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We feel that this year’s concept represents both the creative journeys taken and those yet to come . – D.L.



Sam Corum: Finding a Narrative for Ferguson

From his home in Washington, D.C., Corcoran alumnus Sam Corum, Photography BFA ’12, watched images of the turmoil unfolding in Ferguson, Missouri, flash across his TV screen. Like most of the world, he was shocked by the fatal shooting of Michael Brown, a young black teenager, at the hands of a white police officer. As the protest and the police response escalated, Corum, a freelance photographer, realized he was seeing history in the making.

Corum packed his cameras, rearranged prior commitments and hopped in his car for the 13-hour drive to St. Louis. He wasn’t on assignment. None of his clients were paying him to go to Ferguson. But he recognized that the drama in the small Missouri town would be a turning point in America’s racial dialogue. And he wanted to be on the scene to document it.

Through his service in the Marine Corps as a combat photographer and internships while studying at the Corcoran, Corum has photographed everything from Iraqi combat zones to the lives of parents caring for their mentally disabled adult children. His photos have appeared in non-profit commercial publications, including The Washington Examiner where he interned while in school. He has used the skills he learned at the Corcoran to hone his passion for telling stories with his camera, such as capturing the images of a hero’s goodbye or the bright smile of a community graffiti artist.

In Ferguson, Corum saw an opportunity to capture another kind of tale. His images could tell the narrative “behind a complex story that was being reduced to simple headlines and sound bites,” he said. Ferguson would be his first project covering social justice issues.

“The situation with Michael Brown was extremely sad—but, I saw a bigger story,” he said. In a community that has long been plagued by allegations of police profiling and racial tensions, the Brown shooting “was the boiling point for everything that’s been going on for decades.”

Corum arrived  in Ferguson on August 18 at 4:30 a.m. After catching a few hours of sleep, Corum donned his old flak jacket from tours in Iraq—a jacket he never expected to wear stateside. Scribbling the word “press” on a strip of duct tape, he slapped it to the front of his jacket, strapped on his cameras and headed downhill. The police in the street were “better armed and armored than I was in Iraq,” he said, but it was the energy and volume of the demonstrators’ chants that electrified the night. “The protesters were marching up and down the block chanting, ‘Hands up! Don’t Shoot!’ and ‘No Justice! No Peace!’ But everything was calm.”



Corum’s first images captured the energy and enthusiasm of the protestors.


However, as the oppressive August heat wore on the crowd, tensions rose. Police prodded the crowds to keep moving. While the majority of the protestors were peaceful, Corum said, a handful tossed water bottles at officers.

Police Faceoff

“The crowd was so large that [the instigators] could throw one thing and disappear. So the police would retaliate against all instead of the one or two that had caused the problem.” According to Corum, the police surged into the crowd, pepper-spraying demonstrators and pinned people to the ground. In the melee, he snapped images of a fellow photographer handcuffed for turning his back to the police.


“These instances are the pictures that lead the front pages and all the broadcasts,” Corum said. But Corum also took photos of the peacemakers trying to calm the situation. “People from the community wanted to peacefully protest, they didn’t want the violence. The instigators detracted from the voices who wanted to be heard.” Some of the most poignant images that Corum captured were ones that displayed a group of 20 protestors lined up, held hands and raised their arms above their heads to create a barrier between demonstrators and the police.


Corum spent a month in Ferguson, observing suburbs where well-manicured gardens in middle-class neighborhoods sit side-by-side with dense pockets of poverty. To tell the story of the protests, he needed to trace the roots of the community’s outrage and anger. Although African-Americans represent two-thirds of Ferguson’s 20,000 residents, they have near-zero representation in public forums – only one black official sits on the city council and no black members sit on the Ferguson School Board. Only 94 percent of the police officers are white.

Corum attended public committee meetings where concerned citizens voiced their distress. His photos at Michael Brown’s funeral display the heartbreaking anguish of a community torn by sorrow and indignation—and determined for their voice to be heard.

Al Sharpton


Peace Signs

“That’s the story I wanted to tell,” he said. “It’s not all blood and violence. There is…definitely a large amount of rage, but not with intent to destroy. It’s a community that cares.”


By the end of his month-long stay in Ferguson, Sam Corum was offered a staff position with the Turkish news outlet, Anadolu Agency. Ironically, the image Corum captured of the photographer arrested by the Ferguson police was Anadolu Agency Photographer Bilgin Sasmaz, who returned to his New York City office after his arrest.

“It just so happened that their DC bureau photographer was also going back to Turkey. They saw my stuff and liked it, so they asked me to come on full-time.”

Sam never thought his decision to go to Ferguson to satisfy his own curiosity and to seek a different narrative for what was unfolding in the small Missouri town, would lead to a job where he would continue to tell narratives of social issues, his camera serving as a mouthpiece to history.

Ferguson Protest at American University


Protests Continue in Washington After Grand Jury Decision

Sam’s advice to Corcoran School art students:If you find the need to go out and do something, just go and do it. Sometimes it’s going to take some risks to really succeed. There’s no way I would have found the position I have, if I did not go out and do it on my own…that decision literally led to my current job. Don’t wait for things to just fall in your lap, because they never do.”