FSU Libraries’ Art in the Library Committee organizes visual and performing arts programming in its spaces to enrich the library as an aesthetic and academic environment. A major part of this program includes exhibiting artwork drawn from the FSU student body on a semester-long basis.
Danielle Wirsansky is a PhD student in History, and her photography focuses on storytelling and themes of anemoia, a longing for a time or place which you’ve never known, may never know, and which is always changing. Gizem Solmaz is a PhD candidate in Curriculum and Instruction and her astrophotography represents the meaning of the deep feelings digested in space, allowing her to express her own feelings in the moment of artistic creation.
The Sum of Many Spaces: Landscape Photography and the Sense of Self, featuring the photography of both artists, is on view at Dirac Science Library during the Spring 2023 semester.
FSU Libraries (FSU): Tell us about this show- give our readers a brief introduction to the work you are exhibiting with us this semester.
Danielle Wirsansky (DW): My works in this show are from a series of nature and landscape photographs taken when I was in Israel. I was born there, and I moved to the US as a child – however, I have always felt a dichotomy of identity with both nations. There is a term, orachat la’regah or “a visitor that comes only for a moment.” This is a theme across my pieces – seeing Israel as someone like a visitor, even though I was born there and am a citizen.
Gizem Solmaz (GS): I have always loved photography. One of my youngest memories was when I was about 6 on a family trip and I somehow got control of the camera. My parents were shocked to find all sky photos, no family photos. While this disappointed my parents, I was so excited. This is the first time I was sharing what I saw through my eyes with other people. For the photos in this show at FSU Libraries, as a woman in Turkey I took these photos alone, in the dark, and in that experience I felt so strong and accomplished. I am thrilled to share these with everyone. This exhibition gives me a chance to do just that, so it’s so really emotional.
(FSU): What is your favorite work in this show? Tell us a little more about the story behind it.
(DW): I think it’s actually the piece called Prayer with the woman at the Western wall praying. I was photographing people who wanted really candid photos and I snapped this in the middle of the shoot. I found it really moving and powerful, a special moment in this place that’s important to so many people.
(GS): I think In Limbo, because when I was 8 years old in 1999 there was a massive, deadly earthquake in Turkey. I was the first person in my family to wake, and I remember looking at the clear sky, thinking how it felt so close to us because all the lights were out. The city around us was destroyed but I felt so connected with the sky and the stars. I felt safe and like it would all be ok. When I took In Limbo I remembered that night. I was alone with another female friend and we were so scared but we didn’t leave. When I got home I let myself look at the photos to see if I was able to capture the composition I had in my mind, and I was so glad to see it worked. All that fear was worth it and I was so proud of myself for working through it. I would also like to mention that this photograph won the People’s Choice Award at the FSU HSF Excellence in the Visual Arts Awards Exhibition.
(FSU): What does your artwork represent about you? What message do you want to send out into the world through your art?
(DW): Usually, I don’t do landscape photography – I make more portraits. In all my work I get to construct the story I want people to take away, but this series of landscape photography is really personal. It’s about me, as a citizen of Israel and as an American. More generally I like to explore these feelings of longing, like anemoia. That’s really evident through this exhibition because there are so many people who want to go to Israeli but may never get there. These photographs give viewers a glimpse of this place but also into me.
(GS): All my life, whenever I get excited about something or try something new, I feel like I’ve been discouraged often that I won’t succeed or I’m wasting my time. No one ever supported or encouraged me to try things. I would like to tell the whole world not to listen to the negativity of others – what matters is what you want to do and what makes you happy. If I had listened to those people I would not be here and exhibiting right now at FSU Libraries. I also think we should keep people close to us who do support our dreams. In fact, I didn’t know about this opportunity until a close colleague told me about it and encouraged me to apply. I wouldn’t have done it without him. Look for the people that show you the light.
(FSU): How does being a student impact your creative process?
(DW): I find that I’ve been really good about making opportunities for myself as a student to combine my research with art making opportunities, and also taking advantage of UROP which sparked so many chances for me to take so many paths that I didn’t think I would. My artwork would not be where it is, I wouldn’t be where I am if I had not been a student for so long. I’ve been at FSU since 2012 and my craft has really grown since this time started.
(GS): For taking astrophotos you need expensive equipment to really capture the wide sky views, but because I was a student I was able to take advantage of a program Fuji Film has to freely borrow equipment and learn how to work with it. Similar to the opportunities provided through the Libraries and other student organizations, I was able to explore other opportunities to work through my photography and think through different ways of my creativity.
(FSU): Is research part of your art-making process? If so, could you give us an idea of what that process is like? Where do you do research before you start making? Are there any specific kinds of information that are critical to your work?
(DW): Absolutely. I got involved with research early through UROP at FSU and I was actually part of the first cohort of arts researchers – it was still small and there were almost no arts research projects for me to work on. I ended up working as an assistant to a History professor and I enjoyed that research work so much that I decided to pursue a MA and eventually a PhD in History. My research is also heavily informed by dramaturgy practices as I was a Theatre undergraduate major. With this influence I am very detail-oriented and that shows in my photography. For example, this summer I did two concept shoots while I was in Israel. One was a reinterpretation of the medieval Ecclesia and Synagoga – I thought a lot about how they were depicted then, why, and how I wanted to depict them as equals to craft this new narrative. So in researching I wanted to find new and creative ways to tell the story and to share that with my viewers.
(GS): Yes, research is a BIG part of astrophotography. You need to know when stars or planets or the Milky Way will appear in the sky, what the weather will be like with temperature and humidity, and if specific sites will photograph well. This may not require advanced research skills but it really does require research. Sometimes research for astrophotography includes site visits before you shoot to see what it looks like in person as well. My research process also includes getting to know my photography equipment, practicing techniques, and learning about how other photographers use their equipment. Research in general is a really big part of my personal and professional life, but photography really pushed me to search more, experiment more, and even fail more in the process.
(FSU): Who are your biggest artistic influences?
(DW): Bella Kotak is a photographer I admire. She does fairy tale-type photography where she inserts herself into her photos within these fantasies. She is South East Asian and lately she’s been pulling in fairy tales from her culture as well. I also really admire Jamie Beck. She does a lot of photography on nature and her work looks like paintings. Her work is full of symbolism and is evocative of old paintings. I really like her style and I’m interested in trying something like it one day.
(FSU): Are there any trends in the art world (past or present) that influence you?
(GS): Not really, I was never really looking at trends through art. I was more involved with the techniques of astrophotography, but I might look more into trends to think through different perspectives moving forward. I do follow other astrophotographers – they travel and work to speak about climate change or poverty, and their stories have impacted me. I appreciate their work and the purpose behind it.
(FSU): How does art-making fit into your day-to-day life?
(DW): Right now I am studying for my Ph.D. comps in January and for me, it’s been a great way to both procrastinate and do something I enjoy. In my daily life, I try to do photography everywhere I can. I work as a social media assistant for the History department and I’ve been really fortunate to be able to focus on more creative, cinematic projects in that role. I am also a co-founder and the managing director of White Mouse, a theatre company here at FSU. I sometimes still do marketing photography for them. I hope after comps I can also do more creative shoots just for me.
(FSU): Why do you make art?
(GS): I don’t know if it is because I am an extroverted person but I’ve always felt like I had something to tell and add to this world. But then I’ve learned in life that not everyone will want to hear about you or what you think. What I’ve learned is that only the people who are really ready to talk to me about my work and my story get in touch with me, even if others don’t. I think – I just want to add something, be something in this world. And say in this big world, I am valuable.
(FSU): Do you have any long term goals related to making your artwork?
(DW): I set yearly goals for myself. Last year I was really focused on magazine publications, and this year I focused on gallery exhibitions. So far I’ve exhibited in 20 galleries! I haven’t really decided what I want to focus on next year but I do want to think about what I can learn about my craft and perfect or experiment with. I want to explore what types of stories I can tell and what I want to say. I want a larger body of work to be able to say more with my photography than just one or two things. I am really grateful for this opportunity at FSU Libraries to have my work in conversation with someone else’s work.
(GS): I’m unsure. Getting to exhibit my work was a long term dream and I didn’t expect this to happen now. I always imagined it happening at a much later time in life. I think my goal now is to be able to tell my story to my family and friends, show others how my life has gone and can go. I am a fan of poetry and if I can combine my poetry with my photography I hope to one day do that kind of work and to continue exhibiting and telling my stories.
(FSU): What is your dream project or collaboration?
(DW): There are 2 projects I’ve been thinking about lately. First, to make a series of historically inspired portraits of real queer figures in history where we don’t have photographs – to give these figures back a face, to raise awareness of their stories with concrete images. I think it would be great for queer people today to be able to embody these figures and to continue to tell their stories which are historical but still relevant. The second project leans more into landscape and nature photography. There’s a project called YOLOCAUST around selfies at Holocaust sites as Holocaust education. That’s a real passion of mine, in terms of the pieces of history that I study. I think a lot of the locations of Holocaust atrocities are being forgotten and I would like to go and do my own interpretation to show viewers what it was and what it is now. I want to explore how people grapple with historical preservation and historical memory.
(FSU): What inspired or influenced you to become an artist?
(GS): Two things specifically: 1) Even though they never really shared their art with other people, both my mom and dad were poets. I actually found their work locked away at home (not because they showed it to me), and that was when I realized I could be an artist without being rich or famous. My parents are really ordinary people but they could still be artists. I was probably about 7 when I found out. And then 2) my grandfather inspires me so much – was a really successful businessman for his whole career but now he is disabled. One day he decided he would be happier and more fulfilled volunteering and he closed his business to do that. Now he volunteers, and even though walking is hard for him, he’s never given up on his passion. By now he has supported about 15,000 students through his volunteering. He shows me that if there’s something I really want to do that I can do it.
(FSU): Where can our readers learn more about you and your work?
(DW): I have a small photography company called 3 Muses Photography which is more of my commercial work, but you can see some of my fantasy-type work there, too. I also have work available for purchase in Tallahassee’s Common Ground Books and at the Rust and Rose Boutique in Monticello. My Instagram is @3MusesPhotography and you can follow me there or on Facebook.
(GS): Besides photography, I am a diver and I take SCUBA diving videos. I post them on YouTube @scubawithgizem. Readers can also connect with me on Instagram @gizemsolmz, on Twitter @Gizem_Slmz, and through email at email@example.com.
Are you an artist or a group of artists looking to exhibit your work? Interested in sharing your art with the FSU Community? Have a curated exhibit you’re ready to share? Submit an exhibition proposal for the summer semester by February 17, 2023. This semester the Art in Library Committee is accepting proposals to exhibit at the Dirac Science Library, on the main floor in the hallway surrounding the central stairwell and elevators. This space is viewed by hundreds of students, staff, and faculty a day and can accommodate 10-15 hanging works depending on the size. For more information and to submit your exhibition proposal, visit this link.