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When Jeanine Pohlhaus’ father fell ill in the mid-’90s, she returned to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, to help her parents, Joan and Ernest, through a trying time. As her father’s condition worsened, he was diagnosed with manic depressive disorder. Pohlhaus resumed her practice of photographing her family, recording the moments and events of her parents’ lives. An exhibition based on those photographs, “Joan and Ernie,” is on display at the Williams Center art gallery through October 15.

Pohlhaus will give a presentation about her work on Friday, September 29 in Williams Center room 108. There will be a reception for the artist on Sunday, October 1, from 3-5 p.m.

Pohlhaus, a documentary photographer, has written that photography, “long a way of capturing ephemeral familial quirkiness, soon took on a different tone, with each family moment depicting how depression overwhelms not only the sufferer, but everyone else in his narrowing world.” Photographing her father provided some relief, Pohlhaus found: “The camera gives me momentary distance during a time in which any breathing space proved a luxury.”

Joan Pohlhaus has had a career in social work and education, while Ernest is a religious, emotional man who worked for Pennsylvania’s Department of Aging for 27 years. In a sensitive and intimate series of black-and-white photographs appearing in the exhibition, her parents can be witnessed in moments that are ordinary yet touching (Ernest snoozing on an overwhelmingly flowered couch with his dog, Sauza, striking the same pose on the floor), extraordinary and draining (preparation for electroconvulsive therapy). Pohlhaus’ photographs evidence compassion and affection, and contribute to a perspective allowing the photographer to confront the depression of a loved one with a tone that is serious yet not overwhelming, and humorous while empathetic.

As photographer Larry Fink has pointed out, her images produce “an affecting comedy.” Fink has thoughtfully commented that Pohlhaus’ photographs generate an eccentric and unusual combination of emotive responses – the utmost of compassion mixed with unusual absurdity, eliciting “tears of hilarity and tears of deepest humanity.”

Pohlhaus will be attending graduate school at Yale University this fall. She currently divides her time between her parents’ home in Pennsylvania and New York City, where she is a freelance photo editor and photographer. After being sidelined from the Philadelphia Civic Ballet by injury, Pohlhaus enrolled at Temple University to study film and later became interested in photography. Her work has taken her across the country and to Europe and Asia. She has worked as a photo editor and photographer for the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California; as photo editor of Swanstock Fine Photography in Tucson, Arizona; as photo curator at Ridgway Gallery in Colorado; and as publications and promotions manager for the Aperture Foundation in New York City. Freelance work has taken her to Italy, Mexico, and Southeast Asia. She has exhibited at the University of Rhode Island, Browyn Keenan gallery (New York City), and Telluride Gallery of Fine Art (Colorado). Pohlhaus’ work has been published in the New York Times Magazine, Photo District News, Time Out, The Photo Review and Australian Vogue.

Art gallery hours are noon-5 p.m. Monday; 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday; 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Wednesday; 2 p.m.-5 p.m. Sunday; and a half-hour before public performances in the Williams Center. For more information, call 610-330-5361.

Lafayette College’s exhibition series is presented under provisions of the Detwiller Endowment, and is funded in part through a grant from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, a state agency supported by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the National Endowment for the Arts.

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