By Michaela Payne/Copy Editor
More than 100 guests came out for photojournalism instructor Jessica Lifland’s solo show Sept. 17, packing The Guardsman exhibit hall in Ocean campus’s Bungalow 615.
The opening was the newspaper’s second-ever photography show in the new Front Page Gallery, founded by students in May for a group show of City College student photojournalists’ work.
Lifland’s solo exhibit featured 21 images from her travels to seven countries and two U.S. states over the last two decades, united by the theme “Faces of Hope.”
At the opening, Journalism Department Chair Juan Gonzales introduced Lifland as a key instructor for the program, and introduced special guest Kim Komenich, a Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer, professor at San Francisco State and longtime mentor to Lifland.
“The spirit of the event was so high – a spirit of camaraderie and of family coming together,” Gonzales said.
As a photojournalist, Lifland has travelled to the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Jordan, Kosova, the Philippines, Paraguay and Senegal.
Her work in “Faces of Hope” documents children with cleft lip and palate getting free surgeries from Operation Smile, Haitian communities recovering from earthquake disaster, Iraqi refugees in Jordan, Kosova after conflict, vibrant scenes from Saam Njaay village in Senegal and more.
“The show helped to clearly illustrate the humanity of life and the tragedy of the human sector. But the subjects had a ray of hope,” Gonzales said.
Lifland included three images from her visits to cowboy poets’ homes in North Dakota and Montana. In 2004, Lifland began documenting the annual wintertime National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, Nevada, where she enjoys full backstage access as the event photographer.
In summer, Lifland captures the spirit of cowboy poets when she photographs their labors and lifestyles at home, on the ranches.
“Cowboys are out on the land a lot, without modern technology– and they come from an oral tradition, which continues when they share stories through poetry,” Lifland said. “Every single one lives the life.”
Back to Her Roots
Lifland has been living a photojournalist’s life since 1995 when she moved to the Bay Area to start her photography career.
“Back then you could do that,” Lifland said. “It was $650 for my own studio.”
Holding undergraduate degrees in photography and art history from Cornell University, Lifland found steady work as an in-house freelancer with the Contra Costa Times. There, established journalists took her under their wings and advised her to go get a journalism degree.
Lifland completed a master’s degree in photojournalism at the Ohio University School of Visual Communication and moved to Indiana to photograph for the Evansville Courier & Press. That newspaper was a great place to work and to learn Lifland said, but she was eager to return to the Bay Area.
A transplant from New York, Lifland was born in Manhattan and grew up in Lawrence, Long Island.
Another one of her photojournalism projects, not included in the Front Page Gallery show, featured the multicultural Black, Irish and Orthodox Jewish mix of Long Island’s Far Rockaway beach community.
With a young daughter and family life in Marin County, Lifland goes on fewer weeks-long photojournalism adventures these days.
“Now I have to find a balance between work and family, and I teach, so I have two families with that,” Lifland said.
From Mentee to Mentor
Komenich has mentored Lifland for many years in their shared pursuit of international photojournalism work. He won a Pulitzer Prize in 1987 for images covering the Philippine Revolution, and shared lessons from his career in The Guardsman newsroom during the gallery opening.
Komenich referred to the display of Lifland’s images as “life itself, brought to us through the eyes of one concerned photographer.”
“A camera is a tool for being a witness,” Komenich said. “It’s about concern and empathy – about showing the plight of one person to someone who might be able to help.”
The framed 11 x 14 printed photographs included some black and white and some color prints, made either digitally from film negatives, from 35 mm film or from digital photos.
Most of the prints were for sale with all proceeds donated to the City College journalism program.
Former editor-in-chief of The Guardsman Sara Bloomberg won the print titled “Cowboy Poet Rodney Nelson,” from Lifland’s visit to Nelson’s North Dakota home in 2009.
Photojournalism student Ekevara Kitpowsong curated the “Faces of Hope” show. Former photo editor and current online news director for The Guardsman, Kitpowsong also freelances and plans to curate more Front Page Gallery events.
Kitpowsong has completed Lifland’s City College beginner and intermediate photojournalism classes.
“I’ve seen her work in class but it’s even more beautiful to see the colors and contrast in print,” she said. “She’s a great teacher and I got a lot of inspiration from her work– to become a better photojournalist.”
Gonzales said the gallery’s first show, curated by Kitpowsong and current Guardsman photo editor Natasha Dangond, was easy because everyone was excited for the start of something new.
“Its continuance shows that people value having a space like this to showcase the work. Our emphasis is in presenting work that tells a story, like the printed word but in pictures. That distinguishes photojournalism from aesthetic photography,” Gonzales said.
Visitors from the City College photography department attended Lifland’s opening, including instructors, students and the photo club manager.
Kitpowsong and Gonzales plan to involve other departments in future shows, and are hoping to coordinate a Cinco de Mayo gallery event with the Latin American studies department.
Lifland’s work will be on display through Dec. 4. Visitors are welcome during The Guardsman office opening hours from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. most weekdays.
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Send an email to: Michaela Payne