The UNM photography program, although ranked no. 5 in the U.S. News and World Report’s list of best grad­u­ate programs, has gone nearly unnoticed by the local community. The facilities housing the program and other art students suffer the same fate without the advantage of national recognition.

Among the “notoriously crappy furniture” in her interdisciplinary portfolio class, UNM Professor Adrienne Salinger said a few orange chairs seem to have been there the longest.

“For some reason we’ve all noticed the things that remain are these orange chairs,” she said. “No one likes to sit in the orange chair, but it’s kind of ubiquitous.”

The class is paying homage to the photography program with The Orange Chair exhibit, a collection of pieces they’ve worked on throughout the semester, while drawing attention to the inadequate facilities with which they’ve had to work. The orange chair was present at the Friday reception; as usual, it was ignored.

Many of the photography students described the class as a process of discovery rather than a well-defined path, effectively leaving the artist’s intentions up to the viewer to decide.

From both sexy and repulsive portraits to a startlingly similar series of black-and-white homes, the images represent the realities that play out in the artists’ minds.

“I feel like at first I was searching for some kind of truth through photography, but I think over time I’ve discovered that the photograph is a construction and there isn’t necessarily a truth to it,” student Ashley Rammelsberg said. “You construct it however you want it to be, so it’s kind of a myth, but it’s a believable myth.”

Salinger said this concept is challenging for photographers whose well-executed photographs are often attributed to the camera itself, rather than to artistic skill.

“To use that medium to say something that is important to the maker seems like such a difficult task, because everybody thinks they’re a photographer,” she said. “Now everybody does it with their cell phone, and so the assumption is that it’s very easy to do. Because of that, it’s the most difficult medium you could possibly consider.”

The class itself, Salinger said, is the students’ attempt to flesh out an idea that came seemingly out of nowhere to produce something meaningful. Students don’t fully grasp the meaning of their work, and viewers don’t believe there is meaning beyond what is represented because they don’t regard what they see as a construction.

“It looks cool” was a common statement heard among the crowd, while comments on the photographs’ deeper meaning were few and far between.

Given that many viewers were as unaware of the final goal as the artists themselves, personal meaning is the most important.

Student Stewart Linthicum displayed his five photos of cookie-cutter homes from Rio Rancho, distinguished from one another by small details like overgrown bushes and notes left on a front door that express something about its inhabitants. Like Linthicum, UNM student Marcello Codianni said he felt uneased by the display because you can’t tell the houses apart, and that says something about society.

This is the reality Linthicum said he faces after growing up in the east Texas countryside where neighbors stood a comfortable mile or two away. The freedom of roaming stark naked in front of open windows was something he can never enjoy in the Albuquerque suburbs, hence the unattractive representation of his neighborhood. The images become richer when you consider the personal context.

Jamie Ho contributed two photos, each depicting photo displays, though one is in a house, the other in an apartment. It is difficult to draw meaning beyond what can be seen. There is neither dramatic lighting nor details that betray the kind of person living in either home.

Ask Ho where she comes from and you get an idea of what she sees in them — a homesickness that is difficult to convey through imagery alone. She grew up in Florida, where her family still resides, and moved to Albuquerque for school. While she said she loves Albuquerque, she feels less at home in her apartment because it is temporary and less stable.

Looking at the photos, one is entertained by the strange subject matter and attractive aesthetics. Unaccompanied by artist statements, it is apparent these photos are exploratory rather than definitive messages, and so the photos allow viewers to create stories of their own based on visual cues.

The Orange Chair exhibit
Through Dec. 11
ONTRACK Gallery and Art Space
1719 Fifth St. N.W.
Gallery hours
Friday and Saturday, 12 – 8 p.m.,
Sunday 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.