Arts and Entertainment

Libraries' 'Depth of Field' exhibit examines war photography of Middle East

Credit: Jill Shockey / Penn StateCreative Commons

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Visitors to the current “Depth of Field” exhibit, on display through Aug. 14 in the Diversity Studies Room at Pattee Library, can view an unfiltered look at war photography and assess its impact on audiences. Using Penn State Reads’ 2017-18 book, “It’s What I Do: A Photographer’s Life of Love and War” by Lynsey Addario, as a starting point, the exhibit seeks to highlight the intersections of the history of war in the Middle East with the history of war photography and how visual literacy plays a role in how we interpret and understand those intersections.

Throughout the exhibit, visitors will learn more about female war photographers and photography covering the Middle East over the past two decades, and explore the interplay between text and image. While conflict photography continues to bring attention to issues around the world, there has been a shift in the imagery from action shots to everyday life in recent war photography.

“‘Depth of Field’ creates space for viewers to become what [philosopher Jacques] Ranciere calls ‘the emancipated spectator,’” said Rachel White, University Libraries information services manager and co-curator of the exhibit. “The creator of the artwork presents material in such a way that the viewer has to literally pause in order to digest everything that is going on within the image. The viewer learns to ask questions and not blindly stare at a photograph.” White, with Hailley Fargo, student engagement librarian, worked together to co-curate the exhibition with organizational oversight by Christina Coyle, exhibit coordinator.

Addario’s memoir, as mirrored throughout the exhibition, interweaves themes of gender roles, photographic truths, and cultural and political ideologies, while exploring the many complicated facets of war. The viewer is encouraged to play an active role in the production, consumption and transformation of culture and to become the interpreter of what they see. 

Part of the exhibit focuses on brief snapshots of Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq using library resources to tell these stories. Paired with these resources will be photography by visual arts faculty member Keith Shapiro, whose photographs document scenes of daily life he encountered during his travels to Syria in the 1990s.

The exhibit also sheds light on some of the female photographers that have made their mark on the profession. Finally, through iPad Pro kiosks, exhibit interactive elements — garnered from the University Libraries’ rich collection of multimedia resources — allow viewers to see how people, both foreign and native, are documenting events occurring in the Middle East today.

“Depth of Field” is open to viewing in the Diversity Studies Room, second floor central Pattee Library, during regular hours of operation. Persons with disabilities who anticipate needing accommodations or who have questions about physical access may contact Rachel White at or 814-865-5429.

Last Updated March 13, 2018