Photo experiment stirs controversy

Ryan Gines stands next to photos of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump posted on a bulletin board on the fourth floor of F Tower. (Photo by Garrieth Crockett)

By Chris Cunningham
The Scene staff

A Forest Park photography student thought it would be interesting to post photos of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump on a campus bulletin board and invite people to write comments with a black marker.

The photos were stolen – twice – raising concerns about tolerance and freedom of expression. Ryan Gines is now on his third set.

“I knew people were going to be pretty upset about the election, so I wanted to create a platform for people to voice their opinions,” said Gines, 29, who also works as a photo lab assistant.

“I wanted people to really critically think about it. I wanted to use a platform where people could physically interact with a piece. I am not weighing in on any of the sides.”

The experiment has been taking place on the fourth floor of F Tower since early November. It’s  believed the photos were stolen because people didn’t agree with the opinions expressed or like the language used.

Comments on Trump’s photo ranged from “Why so orange?” to “Stop whining” and “He’s disrespectful to women, doesn’t value them!!!” Comments for Clinton included, “Owned by corporate America,” “Tough as nails” and “Fearless.”

In some cases, people crossed out comments made by others. Photography major Henry Cook, 25, thinks that is wrong.

“I think it is terrible that people are trying to censor this,” he said.

Cook is a fan of the experiment.

“As a person who is a part of a minority group (LGBTQ) that is facing rights being taken away, it is important to not stand by and let these injustices happen,” he said. “This is a perfect platform to express an opinion like this.”

Gines originally posted two 24-by-24-inch photos of Trump and Clinton on the bulletin board across from the photo lab in F-411 on Nov. 10. He hung a marker with a string and invited people to write comments.

The photos were stolen later that day. Gines filed a police report and posted a new set, along with a sign that read:

“This art piece is under surveillance due to previous installation being stolen!!! A police report has been filed for the last items. Unauthorized (removal) of print, cable and/or Sharpie will result in prosecution. $125.00 Fine.”

The following week, Gines was working in the photo lab when he heard a commotion in the hallway.

“I saw someone looking at the artwork and shaking their head,” he said. “They unpinned it from the wall, and I started trailing them.”

Gines followed the woman down to the fine arts department office, where she talked to Carol Foreman, the department secretary.

“She asked me if I was aware that this was hanging on the wall,” Foreman said. “She thought it needed approval by the dean, and I said, ‘Nope.’’’

Gines confronted the woman, took the photos from her and put them back up on the bulletin board.

“(She) said, ‘I guess we live in a different time,’” Gines said.

The photos were stolen again the week before Thanksgiving break. Gines replaced them with smaller 10.5-by-7-inch versions.

People wrote comments such as, “He won; get over it!” and “Twitter King” on the Trump photo, and “She Thicc” and “Yummy” on the Clinton photo.

This week, Gines posted a third photo of Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson, as well as a blank page asking people to suggest write-in presidential candidates. Someone wrote “Carl Washington.”

Before Gines posted the original photos, he got permission from Fine and Performing Arts Chair Jamie Kreher. She considers the thefts troubling.

“I understand the work is controversial, but that is a part of art’s function: To give people an opportunity to present opposite points of view,” she said.

Kreher suggests the college initiate a conversation about freedom of expression.

“I think this piece is indicative of the some of the problems we are having with our discourse in general,” she said.

The contentious presidential campaign and Trump’s upset victory over Clinton has prompted protests in the streets and arguments in offices and living rooms all over the country. Trump won the electoral vote but trailed in the popular vote.

Gines plans to take down the photos after finals week.

“This experience has shown me who is there to support me,” he said. “Jamie (Kreher) and my professors have helped me keep my cool. Other than that, it was just annoying having to reprint these photos.”