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Land, Body and Archive highlights student work

There is a deep history of collaboration between students in the Southwest, specifically in the photo medium, Anna Rotty said. The Southwest Photo Collaborative is a group of graduate students from the University of New Mexico, Arizona State University and the University of Arizona.

Rotty – a third-year graduate student studying photography – worked with a small group of students to create and curate an art show titled, “Land, Body and Archive” in the John Sommers Gallery with an opening reception on Friday, Sept. 10.

The words “Land, Body and Archive” refer to the similar themes that each student in the collective  work with in their photography, Emma Ressel said – a second-year graduate student at UNM. While curating the show, the students thought about how each individual piece and the exhibition as a whole tied back to these themes.

Rotty’s piece showcased the utilization of the light reflection and dirt from the Rio Grande to create an “underwater” effect. The aspects of the pieces are not hung at eye level, inviting the viewer to interact with it, Rotty said.

“I really want someone to be able to look up at it from underneath and have this essence of being below the surface of water, or (to) disorient our position in a human eye-level perspective. … I call it “Nothing without each other” because I’m thinking about ‘What is a river without water?’ These elements are essential to coexisting together for life,” Rotty said.

The collaborative met on Zoom for over a year to share and critique each other’s work, Rotty said. Participating in the Southwest Photo Collaborative, Ressel said, is not required of the UNM photo students, but instead is an effort led by the photo students to build community. 

“It was totally optional for anybody to get involved if they wanted to. It definitely doesn’t feel like anything that our faculty is expecting us to do. It feels very much motivated by the MFA students at these three schools – wanting to deepen the community and the region,” Ressel said.

Rotty manages the John Sommers Gallery as part of her assistantship at UNM. This show is one of the first times students from outside the University have been invited to show their work, she said.

“It’s very much a community student-space as a priority. This is probably the first time that I’ve been here that there’s been anyone from outside of UNM, but in this context, it’s about collaboration … So we’ve invited them,” Rotty said.

The exhibit at UNM is the first iteration of a three-part show. Preceding students from UOFA and ASU will take on organizing the exhibition at their schools.

The Southwest Photo Collaborative, Ressel said, has allowed her to become more involved with the photographers in the broader Southwest community. This sparked a continued interest to work and follow photographers in the region.

“I feel much more aware of what other photographers around me are thinking about, and it makes me feel like I’m not working in a vacuum – that there is this communal energy around working in this region,” Ressel said. 

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Working with the collective has allowed Ressel to become more confident in her work and ability to create opportunities for herself.

“We can create our own opportunities to put work on the wall, connect with each other; we don’t have to wait until we graduate or until we’re invited by an outside entity to get together and work on something, or make something that we’re excited about,” Ressel said.

Addison Key is a senior reporter at the Daily Lobo. She can be reached at or on Twitter @addisonkey11

Addison Key

Addison Key is a senior reporter at the Daily Lobo and served as the Summer 2023 culture editor. She can be reached on Twitter @addisonkey11. 


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